Members of Congress convened Wednesday (Jan. 6) to certify the election of President-elect Joseph Biden, but as the floor debate unfolded rioters stormed the U.S. Capitol in an attempt to thwart the proceedings. The rioters had traveled from a rally in which they were encouraged by President Donald Trump to march on the Capitol building.
At least one woman was reportedly killed, and several police officers were wounded during the hours-long takeover of a building that is viewed from around the world as the center of U.S. democracy.
Law enforcement officers from several agencies and the Washington D.C. National Guard were deployed to stop the rioters and remove them from the Capitol and surrounding area. Lawmakers huddled for hours at undisclosed locations on the capitol grounds as rioters smashed windows, destroyed public property and invaded the offices of members of Congress.
Actions by several Republican U.S. Senators and House members to oppose approving Electoral College votes – an action that is typically a formality in the election process – were also cited as encouragement for the rioters. Numerous present and former political leaders, including former President George W. Bush, criticized the rioters and members of Congress who had planned to oppose the Electoral College vote.
“This is how election results are disputed in a banana republic – not our democratic republic. I am appalled by the reckless behavior of some political leaders since the election and by the lack of respect shown today for our institutions, our traditions, and our law enforcement,” former President Bush said in a statement.
The unprecedented brief occupation of the U.S. Capitol delayed one of the hallmarks of U.S. democracy – the ceremonial counting of the nation’s electoral ballots. By 7 p.m. (EST) the Capitol grounds had been cleared of protestors, and House and Senate members resumed the Electoral College certification.
After evening and early morning debates reconvened in separate chambers on the election results from Arizona and Pennsylvania, Congress finally certified the 306-232 Electoral College victory for President-elect Joe Biden.
TRUMP VIDEO, BIDEN RESPONSE
Trump supporters planned a rally in the nation’s capitol and at one point mid-morning, before the seige, the president spoke to the crowds. Trump continued to falsely claim the election was “rigged” and he said he would never concede that Biden had been lawfully elected. He called on the rally participants to “walk down to the Capitol” and said, “you’ll never take back our country with weakness, you have to show strength and you have to be strong.” Trump’s attorney, Rudy Giuliani, told the rally participants that “trial by combat” was needed to settle the election.
Not long after Trump and Giuliani spoke, the Capitol building was breached. Hours later after being cajoled by allies and aides, Trump released a video telling the rioters he loved them but asked them to go home.
“I know your pain. I know you’re hurt. We had an election that was stolen from us. It was a landslide election and everyone knows it especially the other side,” Trump said. “But you have to go home now,” the president said. “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. It’s a very tough period of time, there’s never been a time like this where such a thing happened, where they could take it away from all of us. From me, from you, from our country. This was a fraudulent election, but we can’t play into the hands of these people.”
Biden blasted the lame-duck president for doing nothing as the Capitol was overrun. He said that in a time of crisis a president’s words matter and he implored Trump to go on national television and condemn the violence.
“At this hour, our democracy is under unprecedented assault, unlike anything we’ve seen in modern times,” the president-elect said from Wilmington, Del. “Let me be very clear: The scenes of chaos at the Capitol do not reflect the true America, do not represent who we are.”
“I’m genuinely shocked and saddened that our nation, so long a beacon of hope and light for democracy, has come to such a dark moment,” he added. “America’s about honor, decency, respect, tolerance. That’s who we are. That’s who we’ve always been.”
ARKANSAS CONGRESSIONAL DELEGATION RESPONSE
Even as they hunkered down, the all-Republican Arkansas Congressional delegation sent out messages about the mobs. U.S. Sens. John Boozman, R-Ark., and Tom Cotton, R-Ark., called for an end to the siege. Cotton went further in calling for President Trump to accept defeat.
“It’s past time for the president to accept the results of the election, quit misleading the American people, and repudiate mob violence,” Cotton said. “And the senators and representatives who fanned the flames by encouraging the president and leading their supporters to believe that their objections could reverse the election results should withdraw those objections. In any event, the Congress will complete its constitutional responsibilities tonight.”
“This violence is unacceptable and needs to be met with the full force of the law. God bless the Capitol Police who are keeping us safe,” Boozman said.
The state’s four U.S. congressmen agreed.
“The actions by those who are lawlessly and forcefully entering the Capitol are disgraceful and reprehensible. I condemn those whose actions are endangering the Capitol Hill Police, other LEO personnel, Members, staff, and employees of the Capitol,” said U.S. Rep. Rick Crawford, R-Jonesboro, the only Arkansas Congressman who went on record ahead of today to express support for not certifying the Electoral College vote.
“My family and I are safe. I condemn this violent protest. We are a nation of law and order, and it is disgraceful that the safety and security of our nation’s capital and our governmental leaders are at risk,” said U.S. Rep. French Hill, R- Little Rock.
“Every American has the right to peacefully protest, but the violence we are witnessing on U.S. Capitol grounds is unacceptable. Attacking property and the brave men and women of the @CapitolPolice must stop. I strongly condemn these acts. Our nation is better than this,” said U.S. Rep. Steve Womack, R-Rogers.
“Americans will always disagree on politics, but violently storming our nation’s Capitol is absolutely unacceptable. People are getting hurt. Enough,” said U.S. Rep. Bruce Westerman, R- Hot Springs, who said he was undecided on his position on the Electoral College vote prior to today.
Editor’s note: Michael Tilley, Marine Glisovic, and Roby Brock contributed to this report. Glisovic is the senior political reporter for KATV.