“To those who wreaked havoc in our Capitol today, you did not win.”
A beleaguered Congress finalized President-elect Joe Biden’s victory early Thursday morning, capping a day of riots that turned deadly and briefly ground the nation’s most powerful institutions to a standstill.
It was the last step in affirming Biden’s election ahead of the Jan. 20 inauguration, but one marred by violence fueled by the sitting president, Donald Trump, who urged his followers to march on the Capitol to pressure lawmakers to overturn the results.
Vice President Mike Pence formally ascertained Biden’s win as the clock struck 3:32 a.m. Thursday morning.
Though the outcome was never in doubt, Trump fashioned the bicameral congressional session as a last stand of sorts, pleading for weeks with supporters to descend on Washington to disrupt the ceremonial electoral vote counting process. Thousands complied, rushing Capitol Police and plunging the typically ceremonial proceedings into mayhem. Vice President Mike Pence, Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other congressional leaders were whisked to safety as a mob overtook the Capitol and shut down proceedings for hours.
What unfolded at the Capitol was the culmination of months of Trump’s exhortations to his allies to overturn the results of the 2020 election based on baseless claims of fraud. Lawmakers tweeted urgently at the president to call off his supporters and described, in real time, the violence and destruction they were witnessing. Some immediately called Trump’s conduct impeachable, while others — Republicans and Democrats — described it as a “coup” attempt and an insurrection.
“Enough is enough,” declared Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) who had, until Wednesday night, encouraged Trump to continue pursuing legal challenges to his defeat, even after it became clear he was promoting baseless claims of fraud.
It took a wave of police and National Guard reinforcements to finally return the Capitol to order by Wednesday evening, but not before one woman was fatally shot by police and other deaths and injuries were reported in connection with the riots.
The episode appeared to strengthen the resolve of lawmakers to forge ahead with certifying Biden’s win and to sweep aside promised challenges to the results from Trump’s loyalists in the House and Senate. They dispensed with an objection to Arizona’s electors brought moments before the pro-Trump mob shut down the Capitol. And a handful of Senate Republicans who previously seemed eager to back Trump’s efforts reversed course, preventing House Republicans from lodging successful challenges to results in Georgia, Michigan and Nevada.
Pence, too, played a role in ushering in Biden’s presidency. The vice president was constitutionally required to preside over the session and faced intense pressure from Trump to assert non-existent authority to unilaterally overturn the election results. And although he had already told Trump he would do no such thing, he returned to the Capitol after the riots with an even more forceful message.
“To those who wreaked havoc in our Capitol today, you did not win,” Pence said.
At around 10:30 p.m., the Senate rejected a challenge to Arizona’s Electoral College votes, 6-93. The riot in the Capitol earlier in the day caused at least eight Senate Republicans to withdraw their objections to Biden’s Electoral College win, but Sens. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), Ted Cruz (R-Texas), Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-Miss.), Roger Marshall (R-Kan.), Tommy Tuberville (R-Ala.) and John Kennedy (R-La.) voted in favor. The House followed suit, shooting down the challenge overwhelmingly, even though 121 Republicans — more than half of the GOP conference — supported it.
Shortly before 1 a.m., the Senate rapidly dispensed with a challenge to Pennsylvania’s votes as well, rejecting the Hawley-led effort 7-92 without any debate. The House rejected the challenge 138-282 shortly after 3 a.m.
The direct threat to lawmakers, which was followed by shocking footage of pro-Trump rioters forcing their way into rooms believed to be the most secure in the country, seemed to sharpen bipartisan fury aimed at Trump. The president remained disengaged while the violence escalated, twice tweeting muted calls for peace and recording a video in which he told the rioters “we love you” while encouraging them to go home. He later tweeted of the violence, “These things happen,” reiterating his false claims of a stolen election.
“What happened at the U.S. Capitol today was an insurrection, incited by the president of the United States,” Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) said.
For Trump, who has pressed his Hill allies to challenge Biden’s victory for weeks, the effort to remain in power came as he and his company face increasing legal peril in expanding investigations led by the Manhattan district attorney and the state of New York. For the lawmakers backing his effort, it’s a reflection of Trump’s grip on the base of the Republican Party who view efforts to overturn the 2020 election results as the ultimate loyalty test.
But after the end of the chaotic and harrowing day, even some Republicans who had previously backed Trump’s effort had deserted him.
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