The US Congress, having defeated Republican efforts to derail Democrat Joe Biden’s victory over President Donald Trump, on Thursday approved states’ Electoral College results certifying the next occupant of the White House.
A marathon sitting was required after the proceedings turned chaotic and deadly on Wednesday, when supporters of Trump stormed the Capitol building, forcing the evacuation of Vice-President Mike Pence and lawmakers.
After an outdoor stand-off with Capitol Police, Trump supporters brandishing US and Confederate flags breached the Capitol, smashing windows, setting off fire extinguishers and occupying areas of the building normally off-limits to the public.
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Speaking on Fox News, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy said he had heard on Capitol Police radio that there were “shots fired” in the building.
Washington police confirmed late on Wednesday that a woman had died of a gunshot wound, after she was shot inside the Capitol. She was later identified as Ashli Babbitt, an Air Force veteran from California. Three other people died due to medical emergencies.
Hours into the siege, White House spokeswoman Kayleigh McEnany said Trump had ordered the deployment of the National Guard to quell the violence and called on agitators to “remain peaceful”.
By the time a 12-hour, emergency citywide curfew went into effect at 6pm, the Capitol building was secured, Reuters reported, citing House Sergeant at Arms Paul Irving.
During the siege, at least one Trump supporter entered the Senate chamber, while others smashed windows in an attempt to break onto the House floor, where police officers stood brandishing guns. Police placed the building under lockdown, and lawmakers reported being instructed to prepare gas masks after the indoor deployment of tear gas.
As police led senators to the Capitol basement, Senator Mitt Romney, a Republican from Utah and a Trump critic, said, “This is what the president has caused today, this insurrection,” The New York Times reported.
The breach came hours after Pence told lawmakers he would not flout his constitutional obligations and reject Electoral College votes during Congress’ certification of the presidential election result, resisting explicit pressure from Trump to overturn his loss to Biden.
Protesters have breached the Capitol. They’re outside the Senate chamber pic.twitter.com/I021tKliUD
— Igor Bobic (@igorbobic) January 6, 2021
“My oath to support and defend the Constitution constrains me from claiming unilateral authority to determine which electoral votes should be counted and which should not,” Pence said in a letter to members of Congress.
In a rebuke of his own vice-president, Trump tweeted that 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.”
The fracture between the two came as Pence appeared in Congress to oversee certification proceedings, a traditionally routine process that this year is expected to extend for hours amid challenges of the results from Republicans.
Close by, and before rioters stormed the Capitol, Trump appeared at a rally to exert further pressure on Pence, while appearing to acknowledge that the vice-president did not intend to acquiesce to his demands.
The Capitol is literally being broken into.
We’re under siege. pic.twitter.com/HW5bxbyr0h
— Jake Sherman (@JakeSherman) January 6, 2021
“Mike Pence, I hope you’re going to stand up for the good of our Constitution and for the good of our country,” Trump said to supporters. “And if you’re not, I’m going to be very disappointed in you. I will tell you right now, I’m not hearing good stories.”
Representative Adam Kinzinger, Republican of Illinois, said he blamed Trump for the day’s violence, citing the president’s aggressive rhetoric in his Wednesday rally and across his social media accounts.
“I’ve said for weeks that I fear violence on January 6, and for the president to go out today, when everybody’s in a heightened emotional state after being falsely promised that somehow Congress can magically pick the next president, he completely shirked his responsibility as president to keep the American people safe,” Kinzinger told NBC.
In a video message in which he called for an end to the violence, Trump repeated his disproven claims that the election was stolen from him, and said to those who had stormed the Capitol: “We love you, you’re very special.”
Shortly after it was posted, Youtube, Facebook and Twitter deleted the video, citing its false claims and concerns that it could incite further violence. Twitter announced later Wednesday evening that Trump’s account would be locked for 12 hours and demanded the removal of three of his posts.
Speaking in Delaware, Biden said the Capitol’s storming bordered on “sedition” and called “on the mob to pull back and allow the work of the democracy to go forward.”
Though shunning pressure from Trump, Pence told lawmakers in his letter that he supported their right to challenge the Electoral College votes delivered by each state.
Soon into Wednesday’s proceedings, lawmakers did just that, objecting to the results delivered by Arizona, where Biden triumphed, picking up 11 Electoral College votes. Such objections, which must be aired by both a House representative and a senator, automatically triggering a maximum two-hour debate on the validity of the result.
None of the Republicans’ objections are expected to succeed, given that Democrats control the House and a number of Republicans in the Senate have publicly stated they will not vote to reject any of the results.
Speaking during the Senate’s debate over the Arizona result, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell condemned efforts by his fellow Republicans to overturn Trump’s defeat over baseless claims of voter fraud, saying: “Nothing before us proves illegality anywhere near the massive scale — the massive scale — that would have tipped the entire election.”
As a result of the unprecedented and ongoing violent situation in Washington, D.C., we have required the removal of three @realDonaldTrump Tweets that were posted earlier today for repeated and severe violations of our Civic Integrity policy. https://t.co/k6OkjNG3bM
— Twitter Safety (@TwitterSafety) January 7, 2021
Warning against a “death spiral” for democracy, McConnell also castigated colleagues for citing public concern about the legitimacy of the election as a reason to overturn results, “when the doubt itself was incited without any evidence.”
As McConnell spoke, crowds of Trump supporters swelled outside the Capitol building, the mood decidedly more tense than an earlier rally outside the White House a few hours earlier, where Trump spoke from a large stage with giant screens
A demonstrator perched on a large white structure in front of the Capitol steps dressed in a black jacket and green hat urged supporters over a bullhorn to surge toward the doors and show their power. “This isn’t a party, this isn’t a game, save your country, move forward,” he said. A few demonstrators made a run for the entrance, blocked off by barriers, but the move was thwarted by police.
“It’s starting to ramp up a bit,” said John Ferro, a sales executive who said he came to fight the “stolen election”.
“We’re here to let them know the people have power,” Ferro said. “We just won’t stand for it any more.”
The violence came after days of public attempts by Trump to coerce Pence into rejecting the Electoral College votes in certain states, asserting in a false Tweet on Tuesday that “The Vice President has the power to reject fraudulently chosen electors.”
The Constitution’s 12th Amendment prescribes that the vice-president must “open all the certificates, and the votes shall then be counted”.
“Some believe that as Vice President, I should be able to accept or reject electoral votes unilaterally,” Pence said in his letter. “Others believe that electoral votes should never be challenged in a Joint Session of Congress. After a careful study of our Constitution, our laws and our history I believe neither view is correct.”
Last week a federal judge rejected an attempt by congressional Republicans to sue Pence into forcing him to interfere in the Electoral College count. An appeal by a group of Republicans, led by Representative Louie Gohmert of Texas, was summarily dismissed on Saturday.
The public pressure campaign against Trump’s arguably most steadfast ally marked an extraordinary capstone to a precedent-defying presidency, with the US leader telling supporters earlier this week that he would not “like [Pence] quite as much” if he did not acquiesce to his demands to undermine the Electoral College vote.
US stock markets ended mixed as the turmoil in Washington escalated. The Dow Jones Industrial Average reached a record high, gaining more than 400 points, or 1.4 per cent, and the S&P 500 increased about 0.6 per cent. The Nasdaq ended the session lower.
Later on Wednesday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in a statement that Congress would return Wednesday evening to continue its business, and expressed hope that the day’s events might prompt Republicans to refrain from objecting further to the certification process.
“We always knew this responsibility would take us into the night,” Pelosi said. “The night may still be long but we are hopeful for a shorter agenda... [O]ur purpose will be accomplished.”
Additional reporting by Agencies, Mark Magnier, Jodi Xu Klein, Robert Delaney and Jacob Fromer
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