Pro-Trump mob storms the U.S. Capitol, forces lawmakers to flee
Violent supporters of President Trump stormed the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday, shattering windows, ransacking offices and pounding on the barricaded doors of the House chamber while shaken lawmakers huddled inside.
The extraordinary breach of democratic order — blamed by both parties on the president’s incitement — forced members to flee the House and Senate floors under armed guard, delaying Congress’ constitutionally mandated count of electoral college votes.
Trump supporters gather in the U.S. capital to protest the ratification of President-elect Joe Biden’s electoral college victory over President Trump.
Four people died — a woman who was shot by U.S. Capitol Police and three others who perished in “medical emergencies,” D.C. Police Chief Robert Contee told the Associated Press. Authorities did not reveal the woman’s name nor the circumstances of the shooting. Several police officers were injured, as was a rioter who reportedly fell from a Capitol balcony.
The Capitol has seen frequent protests and some previous acts of violence — including a bombing in 1915 and shooting in the House Gallery by four supporters of Puerto Rican independence in 1954 — but no riot comparable to Wednesday’s has ever taken place on its grounds.
The violence broke out in early afternoon, shortly after the House and Senate began separate debates on challenges by a minority of Republicans to the electoral college slate from Arizona, the first of at least three states that Trump supporters had planned to challenge.
The attack brought the congressional proceedings to a halt for hours. The debate resumed in the evening, with some senators who had planned to object to President-elect Joe Biden’s electors saying that the attack on the Capitol had caused them to change their minds.
In the wake of the mob attack on the U.S. Capitol, the top two Democrats in Congress — Nancy Pelosi and Charles Schumer — called for the removal of President Trump from office.
The day’s events began in mid-morning when Trump, who had called on supporters to protest on Wednesday and promised them a “wild” time, spoke to thousands gathered at the Ellipse, just south of White House. He urged them to march to the Capitol.
“We will never give up. We will never concede. It will never happen. You don’t concede when there’s theft involved. Our country has had enough. We will not take it anymore,” he said.
Biden, labeling the events an “insurrection,” demanded that Trump “go on national television now to fulfill his oath and defend the Constitution, and demand an end to this siege.”
“This is not dissent. It’s disorder. It’s chaos. It borders on sedition, and it must end now,” Biden said during a brief speech in Wilmington, Del., about two hours after the attack on the Capitol began.
Similar calls came from across the political spectrum.
Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), the third-ranking Republican in the House, said in an NBC interview that Trump bore responsibility for the violence.
“The president of the United States called his supporters to Washington, D.C., and he dispatched them without telling them to stop it,” Cheney said. “What he has caused here is something that we have never seen in our history.”
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) said in a letter to colleagues that the violence had been “instigated at the highest level.”
The National Assn. of Manufacturers, a pillar of the business establishment, issued a statement saying that Vice President Mike Pence, who was evacuated from the Senate chamber when the rioters broke in, “should seriously consider working with the Cabinet to invoke the 25th Amendment to preserve democracy,” referring to the constitutional provision that allows a majority of the Cabinet to declare the president incapacitated.
Numerous lawmakers and political leaders across the nation called for Trump to be impeached a second time, despite the expiration of his term in two weeks.
About three hours after the initial attack on the building, Trump responded with a video in which he professed “love” for the rioters, called them “very special” and repeated his false claims that he won the November election. He also admonished them to leave the Capitol.
“I know your pain. I know your hurt,” Trump said. “But you have to go home now.”
In late afternoon, additional law enforcement officers began arriving at the Capitol, and the Pentagon announced that national guard units would assist. D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser and Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam declared nighttime curfews in the city and its suburbs.
Acting Defense Secretary Christopher C. Miller said the D.C. National Guard was fully activated.
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In a statement, Miller said he and Gen. Mark A. Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, “just spoke separately with the vice president and with Speaker Pelosi” and other congressional leaders “about the situation at the U.S. Capitol.” He notably did not mention speaking to Trump.
“Our people are sworn to defend the constitution and our democratic form of government, and they will act accordingly,” the statement said.
National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien also issued a statement saying he had spoken with Pence, whom he praised, but made no mention of Trump.
As dusk approached, the vastly reinforced contingent of police began clearing the Capitol steps and sweeping the building. About four hours after the riot began, the House Sergeant at Arms announced that the building was once again secure, drawing applause from lawmakers.
The violence began shortly after 1 p.m. as some members of the crowd of Trump backers began scuffling with police and broke through security barricades set up around the Capitol. They quickly overwhelmed a seemingly unprepared Capitol Police force and climbed up the steps on both sides of the building, which are normally off-limits to civilians.
“I think this is the start of the second American revolution,” said Terry McCord of Michigan, one of the Trump supporters. She said her Catholic faith brought her to the scene.
“We have to stop Biden. He is not a good Catholic, and he cannot be our president. We are here for President Trump,” she said.
In sharp contrast to June 1, when federal law enforcement officers used force against largely peaceful Black Lives Matter demonstrators near the White House, the Capitol Police retreated in the face of the crowd, who could be seen using crowbars and other objects to break windows and gain entry into the Capitol building.
The failure of the police to secure the Capitol complex, despite days of notice of pro-Trump protests and warnings of possible violence, drew outrage from lawmakers and other officials.
“There were clearly enormous strategic and planning failures by the Capitol Police, by the Sergeant at Arms and anyone else who was part of coordinating the effort here,” said Rep. Tim Ryan (D-Ohio), who leads the House subcommittee that funds the Capitol Police. “This is the United States Capitol Building with United States Congress in session handling the presidential election process.”
“There was a strategic breakdown,” he told reporters. “You can bet your ass we’re going to get to the bottom of it.
“It’s pretty clear that there’s going to be a number of people who are going to be without employment very, very soon,” he added. “This is an embarrassment both on behalf of the mob and the president and the insurrection and the attempted coup, but also the lack of professional planning and dealing with what we knew was going to occur.”
About 2 p.m., the mob, having gotten into the Capitol Building, broke the glass door of the chamber of the House floor, prompting police officers inside to draw their guns. Members of Congress and Capitol Police barricaded the door with a large bookcase.
In the Senate, the body’s president pro tempore, Republican Sen. Charles E. Grassley of Iowa, abruptly interrupted a senator in mid-sentence to declare the chamber in recess as Capitol Police ordered a lockdown of the building.
In video posted online, a person holding a Trump flag was seen strolling across the Senate floor, access to which is typically so severely restricted that the chamber in 2018 had to pass a rule allowing a newborn baby to enter it in the arms of its mother, a senator. Another person could be seen carrying a Confederate flag outside the Senate chamber.
Reporters heard at least one gunshot. Some House members were evacuated before the mob breached the building. Pelosi said later she was whisked away from the dais so quickly that she left behind her phone. Congressional leaders were taken to Ft. McNair, just south of Capitol Hill, for security.
At least two dozen members, however, were left inside a gallery, given gas masks and advised to remain low to the floor.
“It was a pretty terrifying experience,” said Rep. Jimmy Gomez (D-Los Angeles), who was in the chamber. “This shouldn’t happen in the United States, where people think a democracy is being stolen from them and being antagonized by the president of the United States. It creates a dangerous situation where people are running for their safety.”
Rep. Norma Torres (D-Pomona), another lawmaker who was in the House chamber, described the experience as “horrible.”
Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Dublin) recalled being a Capitol intern when the Sept. 11 terror attacks took place.
“It reminded me a little bit of just the atmosphere here at the time,” he said. “Everyone looking out for each other.”
“We’ve all seen the videos of banana republics all over the world, where the legislators fight, and they can’t keep security. And now the entire world is watching us,” Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler (R-Wash.) said. “I am heartbroken for my country.”
The reading of the electoral college votes, which was Wednesday’s official business, is typically a perfunctory process.
This year, however, it had already taken on an ominous air as Republicans in both the House and the Senate planned to object to the certified electoral vote tallies in at least three states.
As the Senate debate opened, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) forcefully denounced the effort to subvert Biden’s victory by Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas, Josh Hawley of Missouri and others.
If Congress followed Trump’s wishes and rejected electors from states that Biden won, “our democracy would enter a death spiral,” said McConnell, who for four years had largely turned a blind eye to Trump’s conduct.
“This election was not unusually close,” he said.
In the days leading up to Wednesday’s proceeding, Trump had been demanding that Pence use his position as Senate president to reject electoral slates from states Biden won. Trump falsely said that Pence had that power, but the vice president rejected his overture.
“As a student of history who loves the Constitution and reveres its framers,” Pence wrote in a two-page letter to Congress, “I do not believe that the founders of our country intended to invest the vice president with unilateral authority to decide which electoral votes should be counted.”
Trump responded angrily on Twitter.
“Mike Pence didn’t have the courage to do what should have been done to protect our Country and our Constitution,” he wrote.
Twitter removed that message and several others by Trump during the course of the day, saying that his statements violated its standards.
Democrats warned that the objections would have long-term consequences.
“These actions have eroded the American people’s faith in the integrity of our elections and the institutions that stand at the core of our democracy,” Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.) said.
“The best way we can show respect for the voters who are upset is by telling them the truth,” Republican Sen. Mitt Romney from Utah said, spurring applause from the floor.
Republicans who object to certifying the vote say they’re following through on the concerns of their constituents.
Rep. Doug LaMalfa (R-Richvale) said he would have preferred courts to review claims of fraud.
“Because the courts at all levels have sidestepped their duty to the republic, there is no other alternative than to use the power of Congress to investigate and hopefully get to the truth,” LaMalfa said.
Courts nationwide reviewed and rejected some 60 challenges pertaining to the vote — including the Supreme Court.
Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.), one of Trump’s most loyal allies in the Senate, said he had concerns about the widespread use of mail-in voting but would prefer an independent commission to review the voting process — not to overturn the election.
“While I share the concerns of those who plan to object,” Cramer said Tuesday, “the Founding Fathers did not design a system where the federal legislative branch could reject a state’s certified choice for president in favor of their own,”
The most recent objection to an electoral count was raised in 2005 upon the reelection of President George W. Bush, with the support of then-Sen. Barbara Boxer. The objection was heard, briefly debated and voted down.
After police reestablished control of the Capitol, Congress returned to its business of opening and reading the electoral college certifications filed by each of the states Wednesday night.
“We will not be kept out of the chamber by thugs, mobs or threats,” McConnnell said. Pelosi vowed to stay as long as was needed to complete the process.
After the debate, both chambers rejected the election challenges, as a day of tumult ended as it began, with Biden two weeks from taking the oath of office.
Times staff writers David S. Cloud, Tracy Wilkinson and Chris Megerian and the Associated Press contributed to this report.
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