WASHINGTON – On a day of violence and tumult that put a final, indelible stamp on outgoing President Donald Trump’s chaotic tenure, a pro-Trump mob stormed the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday, forcing a lockdown while a debate over accepting the legitimacy of the November election split the Republican Party in two.
As Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell warned scores of his GOP colleagues that their objection to the Electoral College results could send American democracy into “a death spiral,” Trump supporters – spurred by the president at a rally in front of the White House – forced their way into the Capitol and delayed the inevitable certification of President-Elect Joe Biden’s victory.
The assault on Capitol Hill, which left four people dead and several injured, marked the culmination of four years in which Trump has commandeered the Republican Party and reshaped it in his own image. One woman was shot and killed in circumstances that remain unclear, and three others died from medical problems, police said.
By Wednesday morning, roughly half of congressional Republicans had defied McConnell and said they would object to the results, citing debunked conspiracy theories that the election was rigged and a responsibility to amplify concerns based on those baseless allegations. Later, sequestered in undisclosed locations in the hours after police evacuated the Capitol, a handful of GOP lawmakers had a change of heart – including Spokane Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers.
When Congress reconvened after order was restored, a few senators who had initially planned to object reversed course, shortening the session in the early hours of Thursday morning. Vice President Mike Pence declared President-elect Joe Biden the winner of the election about 12:45 a.m. Spokane time on Thursday.
In the hours before the mob stormed the Capitol, Democrats staged a double upset in runoff elections in Georgia to seize control of the Senate, an outcome many Republicans blamed on Trump’s unwavering insistence that the election was stolen from him by systematic voter fraud. Trump-appointed judges, GOP election officials and Trump’s own attorney general have all said there is no evidence to support the president’s claims.
A joint session of the House and Senate met Wednesday afternoon in a final, largely ceremonial step to confirm Biden’s victory. All 50 states and the District of Columbia had already certified their election results and appointed electors to vote for the candidate who won each state. Some Democrats objected to Electoral College results after their candidates lost in 2000, 2004 and 2016, but the scale of Wednesday’s GOP revolt was unprecedented.
A day after telling The Spokesman-Review she intended to object to the results of multiple states won by Biden, McMorris Rodgers reversed course and said Wednesday afternoon she would vote to certify the count.
“What we have seen today is unlawful and unacceptable,” she said in a statement. “I have decided I will vote to uphold the Electoral College results and I encourage Donald Trump to condemn and put an end to this madness.
“What happened today and continues to unfold in the nation’s capital is disgraceful and un-American. Thugs assaulted Capitol Police Officers, breached and defaced our Capitol Building, put people’s lives in danger, and disregarded the values we hold dear as Americans. To anyone involved, shame on you.”
Before Congress met to certify the results, Trump reiterated his demand that Republicans object and directed the crowd to march down Pennsylvania Avenue.
“We’re going walk down to the Capitol, and we’re going to cheer on our brave senators, and congressmen and women,” Trump said. “We’re probably not going to be cheering so much for some of them, because you’ll never take back our country with weakness. You have to show strength.”
After hours of silence while his supporters besieged the Capitol, Trump posted a video message on Twitter calling for the rioters to leave while repeating his disproved claim that the vote was rigged.
“We had an election that was stolen from us,” Trump said. “But you have to go home now. We have to have peace. … Go home. We love you. You’re very special.”
Thirteen GOP senators said ahead of Wednesday’s session they would object to the results from at least three states: Arizona, Pennsylvania and Georgia. After Capitol staff swept up broken glass and lawmakers reconvened Wednesday evening, just six senators objected to Arizona’s results while more than half of the House GOP conference still obeyed Trump’s demands.
Idaho GOP Sens. Mike Crapo and Jim Risch voted to certify Arizona’s results. In a statement Wednesday night, Crapo decried the day’s violence and said, “Actions like today thwart the rule of law and could leave lasting, devastating consequences on our nation.
“Through the Electoral College, the election of the president is entrusted to the states, not to Congress. When disputes arise, adjudication rests in the courts. Any effort by Congress to abandon the Electoral College’s constitutional significance for states to certify and send their Electors would set a dangerous precedent I cannot support.”
After voting to certify Arizona’s results, Risch called the day’s events “unpatriotic and un-American in the extreme.”
“Our republic has long been the envy of people all over the world, and we must stand united against those who wish to tear us apart,” Risch said. “I was proud to join my colleagues and reconvene at the Capitol tonight to prove that mob rule never prevails. Freedom and law and order will always triumph.”
Rep. Dan Newhouse, a central Washington Republican, said in a call with reporters Wednesday evening he and his colleagues were still reeling from “having our nation’s Capitol building being literally overrun by thousands of people.”
“We are all in a state of disbelief,” said Newhouse, who certified the results. “I can’t believe that this is happening in our country, shocked beyond words. Many of us are disappointed, disgusted, horrified. This is not the United States of America. This is not how we conduct business.”
Rep. Derek Kilmer, a Democrat who represents Tacoma and the Olympic Peninsula, said from an undisclosed location Wednesday afternoon the first thing he did after the lockdown started was call home to assure his family he was safe.
“I started my day by calling my kids and saying, ‘You’re gonna see rowdiness on the streets of Washington, D.C., but don’t worry, dad works in one of the most secure buildings on the planet,’ ” the father of two said. “I called them once we were on lockdown and said, ‘OK, well, sometimes dads are wrong.’
“I think what is at stake today is a pretty simple principle, and that is that the American people are sovereign and they hold the power to choose their leaders through the ballot box. Our president isn’t chosen by an angry mob.
“Obviously, this is a really dark chapter for our country, but this is not going to get in the way of the will of the voters. That’s not how our system works.”
Rep. Pramila Jayapal, a Seattle Democrat who said she was crouched on the floor of the House gallery when shots were fired into the chamber below, said the violence was predictable after months of Trump trumpeting baseless conspiracy theories.
“The level of temper, anger, rage was perhaps not unexpected given what the president and his allies have been doing,” Jayapal said. “It has been incredibly difficult and deeply dangerous to see what is happening and the violence that was incited and fueled by Donald Trump and some of the Republicans, and I’m grateful to those who did not participate.”
Jayapal later called on Vice President Mike Pence and the president’s cabinet to remove Trump from office using the 25th Amendment.
Washington Democratic U.S. Sen. Patty Murray also suggested that Trump be removed from office before his term ends on Jan. 20.
“Congress is continuing the process of certifying the election, but only after a day of chaos and violent extremism in our Capitol where some of our worst fears about the harm this President is willing to incite were realized,” Murray wrote on Twitter. “The most immediate way to ensure the President is prevented from causing further harm in coming days is to invoke the 25th Amendment and remove him from office.”
The constant drumbeat of allegations from the president and his allies, and most Republicans’ refusal to push back on his incendiary claims, created an environment where GOP lawmakers face tremendous pressure from some constituents to express the fealty Trump demands.
Rep. Russ Fulcher, a Republican who represents North Idaho, said Tuesday he announced his intention to object to the results by video earlier than planned in response to a flood of feedback from Idahoans.
“People who have questions about this election want to know that it’s going to receive some action, that Congress is going to do something, that we’re going to fulfill our role of oversight here,” Fulcher said. “Our phones, my email, my voicemail was absolutely blowing up. … We could not keep up with the responses until I posted that video.
“That wasn’t why I posted it. But what did happen is everything all but went silent. Why? Because people just want to know that there was going to be some kind of action.”
After certifying Arizona’s results just before midnight local time, Congress proceeded to certify results from other states in alphabetical order until Sen. Josh Hawley, a Missouri Republican who is considering a White House run in 2024, objected to Pennsylvania’s results.
Just after midnight, the House and Senate broke into separate sessions to again debate the legitimacy of the same election that put all 435 House members in office. In the Senate, seven Republican senators voted against accepting Pennsylvania’s election results, prolonging the process until nearly 4 a.m. local time.
Even while it was unclear how long the certification process would take, the outcome was never in doubt – Joe Biden will become president of a deeply divided nation on Jan. 20.
Orion Donovan-Smith's reporting for The Spokesman-Review is funded in part by Report for America and by members of the Spokane community. This story can be republished by other organizations for free under a Creative Commons license. For more information on this, please contact our newspaper’s managing editor.
Local journalism is essential.
Give directly to The Spokesman-Review's Northwest Passages community forums series -- which helps to offset the costs of several reporter and editor positions at the newspaper -- by using the easy options below. Gifts processed in this system are not tax deductible, but are predominately used to help meet the local financial requirements needed to receive national matching-grant funds.
Subscribe to the Coronavirus newsletter
Get the day’s latest Coronavirus news delivered to your inbox by subscribing to our newsletter.