A violent siege of the U.S. Capitol building Wednesday forced lawmakers to delay sealing President-elect Joe Biden’s election victory, which went ahead only after authorities spent hours clearing supporters of President Donald Trump from the area.
Police confirmed a total of four people died after a mob of protesters stormed the Capitol building, interrupting a joint session of Congress that was viewed by Trump and his supporters as a final chance to overturn the election results. Lawmakers and press members were forced to shelter in place for hours as police attempted to regain order.
Returning to the Senate chamber Wednesday evening, Vice-President Mike Pence used his position as president of the Senate to condemn the protesters.
“To those who wreaked havoc in our Capitol today, you did not win. Violence never wins. Freedom wins,” he said. “Let’s get back to work.”
The Senate’s top Democrat, Chuck Schumer, called Wednesday “one of the darkest days” in recent history, adding that those responsible should be prosecuted to the “full extent of the law.”
“They should be provided no lenience,” he said. Schumer said the lawmakers will resume their responsibilities and “will finish our task tonight.”
Lawmakers eventually finished counting the electoral votes despite hours of debate sparked by Republican objections. Early Thursday morning, Pence declared Joe Biden the winner of the election.
Trump said in a statement shortly after Pence’s declaration that he would support a peaceful transition of power “even though I totally disagree with the outcome of the election.”
The Metropolitan Police Department of Washington, D.C., said a woman who was shot inside the Capitol during the protest died at a nearby hospital. The shot was fired by a Capitol Hill police officer during an armed standoff between police and rioters.
Police said late Wednesday that three other people, a man and two women, died Wednesday due to “individual medical emergencies.” Over 50 arrests were made, the majority of them on Capitol grounds, while 14 police officers were injured.
D.C. police officials also say two pipe bombs were recovered, one outside the Democratic National Committee and one outside the Republican National Committee. Police found a cooler from a vehicle that had a long gun and Molotov cocktail on Capitol grounds.
Democrats and Republicans condemned the mob as chaos descended onto the House Chamber floor and protesters supporting the president breached the Capitol building’s doors. Some Republicans called on their colleagues to cancel their plans to object to the Electoral College vote certification, which was underway when the protest grew violent.
Trump tweeted that “these are the things that happen” when an election is so heavily disputed. He told the mob to “go home,” while refusing to concede the legitimacy of the election results, maintaining that the U.S. election was stolen from him in a video posted to Twitter on Wednesday.
“I know your pain. I know you’re hurt. We had an election that was stolen from us,” he said.
“But you have to go home now. We have to have peace. We have to have law and order. We have to respect our great people in law and order. We don’t want anybody hurt.”
Twitter has since deleted those tweets, and has limited users from replying, retweeting or liking several other tweets that feature disputed election claims “due to a risk of violence.” Trump will be locked out from his account until the tweets are removed, the networking service said.
“As a result of the unprecedented and ongoing violent situation in Washington, D.C., we have required the removal of three @realDonaldTrumpTweets that were posted earlier today for repeated and severe violations of our Civic Integrity policy,” Twitter wrote.
“This means that the account of @realDonaldTrump will be locked for 12 hours following the removal of these Tweets. If the Tweets are not removed, the account will remain locked.”
Facebook and Instagram later said they would lock Trump’s accounts for 24 hours. Facebook also removed Trump’s video statement and other posts that the company ruled “contribute to, rather than diminish, the risk of ongoing violence.”
Chaos descended on the Capitol as U.S. Vice-President Mike Pence was pulled from the House Chamber floor and police dispersed tear gas to push back the mob, telling members of Congress inside the House chamber to put on gas masks. Several senators tweeted they were sheltering in their offices while security evacuated much of the building.
One protester made it onto the House Chamber dais and yelled, “Trump won the election.”
Several other images have emerged of protesters inside. In one, a protester is sitting in House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s chair. Another shows a protester carrying a House podium. Outside, a hanging post with a noose has been erected by the west side of the Capitol building.
Pelosi tweeted Congress would resume Wednesday night.
“Today’s shameful assault on our democracy — anointed at the highest level of government — must not deter us from our responsibility to the Constitution,” she said. “Tonight, we will move forward with the certification of President-elect Joe Biden’s election.”
Pence’s press secretary Devin O’Malley confirmed the vice-president has returned to the Senate to “finish the People’s business.” O’Malley said Pence was in contact with Congressional leaders and other officials, but did not mention any communication with Trump.
Vice President @Mike_Pence has returned to the Senate. He never left the Capitol.@VP was in regular contact w/ House & Senate leadership, Cap Police, DOJ, & DoD to facilitate efforts to secure the Capitol & reconvene Congress.
And now we will finish the People’s business.
— Devin O’Malley (@VPPressSec) January 7, 2021
Kayleigh McEnany, Trump’s press secretary, said the U.S. National Guard and other federal protective services were “on the way” to help quell the violence. The Pentagon said it had mobilized around 1,100 members of the D.C. National Guard who are making their way towards the Capitol building, in a statement to the Associated Press.
CNN and the New York Times confirmed Trump initially resisted requests to mobilize the National Guard, only relenting after intervention from White House officials, including Pence.
Biden condemned the riots, calling for a return to “simple decency.”
“At this hour our democracy is under unprecedented assault unlike anything we’ve seen in modern times,” Biden said in a televised address. He called the riot at the Capitol building “an assault on the rule of law like few times we have ever seen it.”
The protest, which began early Wednesday afternoon, was officially declared a riot by Washington police chief Robert Contee at around 5 p.m. E.T., who said some pro-Trump protesters used “chemical irritants” on police as they barged their way into the Capitol building.
Washington Mayor Muriel Bowser said the mob’s behaviour was “shameful, unpatriotic and above all is unlawful,” initiating a city-wide curfew for D.C., that will go from Wednesday at 6 p.m. until 6 a.m. on Thursday.
The public emergency declared on Wednesday for the capital has now been extended for 15 days — the duration of Trump’s remaining tenure in office.
In the order Bowser said Trump “continues to fan rage and violence by contending that the Presidential election was invalid.”
“Persons are dissatisfied with judicial rulings and the findings of the State Boards of Elections, and some persons can be expected to continue their violent protests through the inauguration,” the order said.
Police later confirmed early Thursday morning that all buildings surrounding the Capitol were secure and clear of protesters.
Lawmakers reject attempts to overturn election
Republicans had just mounted their first objection to Arizona’s electoral vote count when the floor was evacuated.
Sen. Ted Cruz, who led a group of 12 Republican senators promising to reject the Electoral College results, called for an “emergency audit” of the election results. The Electoral College favoured Biden to win with 306 electoral college votes to Trump’s 232.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell offered a strong rebuke to the challenge, saying the country “cannot keep drifting apart into two separate tribes,” adding that the attempt to overturn the election results would “damage the republic forever.”
“The voters, the courts and the states all have spoken,” McConnell said.
Montana Sen. Steve Daines was the first Republican senator to issue a statement saying he would no longer mount objections to the vote certification in the wake of Wednesday’s protests.
On the Senate floor after the debate reconvened, Sen. James Lankford of Oklahoma admitted the night would end with “the certification of Joe Biden to be the president.” Outgoing Georgia Sen. Kelly Loeffler, who was defeated the day before in a runoff election, said she could no longer mount an objection “in good conscience.”
Sen. Mike Braun — who hours earlier Wednesday tweeted a photo of himself signing his objection to Arizona’s certification of its electors for Biden — also withdrew his challenge.
Other Republicans including Sen. Tom Cotton urged their colleagues to stand down and agree to certify the results.
Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah brought up his own loss to President Barack Obama in the 2012 presidential election while admonishing his colleagues to accept Trump’s loss.
“The best way we can show respect for the voters who are upset is by telling them the truth,” Romney said. “And the truth is, president-elect Biden won this election.”
Since Biden’s projected win on Nov. 7, Trump has made baseless allegations of voter fraud and widespread voting irregularities, leading to a flurry of failed lawsuits attempting to overturn election results.
Earlier on Wednesday, Trump had urged the massive crowd of protesters to march towards the Capitol, vowing he would “never concede” to Biden.
“We will never give up,” he said.
Rep. Veronica Escobar, who shared her lockdown experience on Twitter, blamed Trump for the breach, claiming “this is the chaos and lawlessness @realDonaldTrump has created.”
I’m currently sheltering in place. The Capitol building has been breached and both chambers are locked down.
— Rep. Veronica Escobar (@RepEscobar) January 6, 2021
Romney said earlier Wednesday that the breaching of the Capitol’s walls was “an insurrection, incited by the President of the United States.”
“Those who choose to continue to support his dangerous gambit by objecting to the results of a legitimate, democratic election will forever be seen as being complicit in an unprecedented attack against our democracy,” he said in a statement.
“They will be remembered for their role in this shameful episode in American history. That will be their legacy.”
Meanwhile, congresswoman Ilhan Omar said in a tweet she was drawing up new articles of impeachment against Trump to have him removed from office.
“We can’t allow him to remain in office, it’s a matter of preserving our Republic and we need to fulfill our oath,” the tweet read.
Former presidents Barack Obama, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton all condemned the protests and made clear they believe Trump was responsible, though none mentioned him by name.
Kirsten Hillman, Canada’s ambassador to the U.S., said in a tweet the federal government was “following the developments on Capitol Hill very closely.”
“All embassy are safe and accounted for,” the tweet read.
“Canadians in D.C. should follow the advice of local authorities.”
In Toronto, a small group of Trump supporters passed in front of the U.S. consulate, leaving “Stop The Steal” invitations to a car rally outside the U.S. consulate. Similar protests broke out in Vancouver and Calgary.
The Capitol protest has drawn concern from Liberal and Conservative politicians alike, including Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Quebec Premier François Legault and Foreign Affairs Minister François-Philippe Champagne.
“Obviously we’re concerned and we’re following the situation minute by minute as it unfolds. There is an important electoral process unfolding in the United States, and we all want it and need it to unfold properly and peacefully,” Trudeau said in a quote emailed to Global News.
“We’re going to continue to make sure Canadians are well served in our relationship with the United States regardless of how things unfold.”
— With files from The Associated Press