WASHINGTON – Thousands of flag-waving supporters of U.S. President Donald Trump stormed the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday, forcing lawmakers to evacuate and shutting down the normally routine procedure of certifying the Electoral College vote, the final step in the election of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris as the next president and vice president.
Stunning television images showed closely packed demonstrators teeming over the exterior of the white-columned building. Hundreds more overwhelmed Capitol Police and poured into the building, as some were reported trying to break down the doors of the House of Representatives chamber where lawmakers had been debating the Electoral College vote showing Biden had defeated Trump.
Washington, D.C., Mayor Muriel Bowser imposed a 6 p.m. curfew and the D.C. National Guard was activated.
Plainclothes security forces were photographed on the Fox News channel with handguns drawn facing off against demonstrators inside the building. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, a member of Trump’s Republican Party, told the network he overheard police reporting that shots had been fired.
A civilian was shot inside the Capitol and was taken to a hospital.
One protester sat in the chair where Vice President Mike Pence had been presiding over the Electoral College discussions before they were interrupted.
The protesters marched to the Capitol with the encouragement of Trump, who had urged his followers to come to Washington in support of his effort to overturn the results of the November election. In remarks to a demonstration near the White House, Trump told the crowd, “We will never give up, we will never concede.”
As the mayhem accelerated in and around the Capitol building, Trump issued a tweet urging the mob to remain peaceful and respect the police.
“No violence!” Trump said. “Remember, WE are the Party of Law & Order – respect the Law and our great men and women in Blue. Thank you!”
Biden, from his transition hub in the eastern state of Delaware, said, “At this hour our democracy is under unprecedented assault” and called on Trump to go on national TV and fulfill his obligation as commander in chief to call off the mob.
Law enforcement authorities fired tear gas at the protesters as they stormed the Capitol – the worldwide symbol of U.S. democracy – and called for reinforcements to deal with the demonstrators who entered the building and to keep thousands more outside the building.
Lawmakers in the House were given gas masks to protect against the tear gas irritant. Plainclothes police officers pointed weapons at one blockaded, windowed door to the House floor to keep out protesters.
The discussions about the Electoral College vote to make Biden the country’s 46th president then were halted as police attempted to restore order.
The clashes came about two hours after Pence told lawmakers in a letter he would not attempt to block congressional certification of Biden’s victory in the November election even though Trump, Pence’s boss, repeatedly implored him to stop Biden’s path to the White House after his January 20 inauguration.
Pence, at the start of congressional certification of Biden’s 306-232 victory in the Electoral College, said he did not believe he has the “unilateral authority to decide which electoral votes should be counted.”
Trump, in an early morning Twitter comment and later at a rally with several thousand supporters near the White House, called on Pence to show “extreme courage” to block Biden’s victory.
But when Pence balked, Trump, who has railed for weeks against the election outcome, rebuked his second in command, saying on Twitter, “Mike Pence didn’t have the courage to do what should have been done to protect our Country and our Constitution, giving States a chance to certify a corrected set of facts, not the fraudulent or inaccurate ones which they were asked to previously certify. USA demands the truth!”
As the debate started, some Republican lawmakers supporting Trump immediately challenged the outcome in the southwestern state of Arizona, which Biden narrowly won.
The Senate and House, as planned, immediately split into separate debates on the merits of the Arizona challenge.
Senate Republican Majority Leader Mitch McConnell opposed a dozen Republican colleagues in the Senate and more than 100 House members seeking to upend the Electoral College outcome.
“The voters, the courts the states have all spoken,” McConnell said. “They’ve all spoken. If we overruled them it would damage our republic forever. This election was actually not unusually close,” with Biden winning the popular vote by more than 7 million votes.
“We cannot simply declare ourselves a national board of elections on steroids,” McConnell said. “The voters, the courts, and the states have all spoken … If we overrule them, it would damage our republic forever.”
Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer of New York said, “The Congress does not determine the outcome of elections, the people do. By the end of the proceedings today, it will be confirmed once again, something that is well known, and well settled: The American people elected Joe Biden and Kamala Harris to be the next president and vice president of the United States.”
“But,” Schumer continued, Republicans “are going to object to the counting of the vote anyway, and in the process, they will embarrass themselves, they will embarrass their party, and worst of all, it will embarrass our country.”
Republican lawmakers seeking to block the certification of the Electoral College outcome echoed Trump’s claims that vote and vote-counting irregularities should void the election outcome.
From formality to spectacle
Normally, the congressional certification of the Electoral College outcome is an hourlong formality once every four years. This time, however, it is a drama-filled spectacle.
Trump for weeks has made baseless claims that he was defrauded out of a second term, even as he lost 60 court challenges to the vote. More than 100 House members and 13 senators said they would object to certifying Biden’s narrow victories in several political battleground states, which could set off hours of contentious debate.
At the rally, Trump told supporters he would march with them to the Capitol but instead retreated in a motorcade back to the White House.
In the indirect form of U.S. democracy, the 50 states and the national capital city of Washington conduct the presidential election, with the popular vote outcomes in each of the states and Washington leading to the Electoral College vote, with the biggest states holding the most votes.
“States want to correct their votes, which they now know were based on irregularities and fraud, plus corrupt process never received legislative approval,” Trump contended on Twitter in the latest in a long string of complaints about the election.
“All Mike Pence has to do is send them back to the States, AND WE WIN. Do it Mike, this is a time for extreme courage!” Trump tweeted.
Both houses of Congress would have to reject the electoral votes in several states for the result to change, which will not happen.
Democrats narrowly control the House and are certain to support Biden. In the Senate, the minority Democratic bloc, joined by numerous Republicans who have acknowledged Biden’s victory and are opposed to challenging it, are also all but certain to declare Biden the winner.
Trump has called Republicans who have refused to line up in support of his claims of fraud the “Surrender Caucus.”
“I hope that our great vice president comes through for us. He’s a great guy,” Trump said at a rally in Georgia on Monday night. “Of course, if he doesn’t come through, I won’t like him quite as much.”
As Pence alphabetically started reading through the list of states and their electoral votes, the process was immediately stopped with the Arizona challenge.
The outcome in Georgia, Michigan, Nevada, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, all states Biden won, also could be challenged.
The congressional certification of the Electoral College outcome is mandated by the 12th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which says that the Senate and House must meet to officially count and certify the Electoral College results from all 50 states and Washington.