WASHINGTON (AP) — Violent protesters loyal to President Donald Trump stormed the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday and forced lawmakers into hiding, in a stunning attempt to overturn America’s presidential election, undercut the nation’s democracy and keep Democrat Joe Biden from replacing Trump in the White House.
The National Guard and state and federal police were called in for control, and the mayor of Washington imposed a rare evening curfew. One person was reported to have been shot.
The protesters were egged on by Trump and his false attacks on the integrity of the November presidential election. While rallying his supporters outside the White House Wednesday morning, he urged them to march to the Capitol. But later — hours after they fought police and breached the building — he told them that although they were "very special people” and he backed their cause, they should “go home in peace.”
President-elect Biden, two weeks away from being inaugurated, had declared in Wilmington, Delaware: "I call on President Trump to go on national television now to fulfill his oath and defend the Constitution and demand an end to this siege,”
Biden said that democracy was ’“under unprecedented assault," a sentiment echoed by many in Congress, including some Republicans.
The chaotic protests halted Congress’ constitutionally mandated counting of the Electoral College results, in which Biden defeated Trump, 306-232.
Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell had tried to steer Congress away from Wednesday's formal protest of those results, and he said at the start of proceedings that Trump had clearly lost.
Wednesday’s ordinarily mundane procedure of Congress certifying a new president was always going to be extraordinary, with Republican supporters of Trump vowing to protest election results that have been certified by the states. But even the unusual deliberations, which included Vice President Mike Pence and Senate Majority Leader McConnell defying Trump’s demands, were quickly overtaken by the chaos.
In a raucous, out-of-control scene, protesters fought past police and breached the building, shouting and waving Trump and American flags as they marched through the halls. One person was reported shot at the Capitol, according to a person familiar with the situation. That person's condition was unknown. At least one explosive device was found that was detonated.
The protesters abruptly interrupted the congressional proceedings in an eerie scene that featured official warnings directing people to duck under their seats for cover and put on gas masks after tear gas was used in the Capitol Rotunda.
Senators were being evacuated. Some House lawmakers tweeted they were sheltering in place in their offices.
The Pentagon said about 1,100 District of Columbia National Guard members were being mobilized to help support law enforcement at the Capitol.
Pence was closely watched as he stepped onto the dais to preside over the joint session in the House chamber.
Pence had a largely ceremonial role, opening the sealed envelopes from the states after they are carried in mahogany boxes used for the occasion, and reading the results aloud. But he was under growing pressure from Trump to overturn the will of the voters and tip the results in the president’s favor, despite having no legal power to affect the outcome.
“Do it Mike, this is a time for extreme courage!” Trump tweeted Wednesday.
But Pence, in a statement shortly before presiding, defied Trump, saying he could not claim “unilateral authority" to reject the electoral votes that make Biden president.
Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) directly blamed Trump on Wednesday evening, saying that the Capitol “was ransacked while the leader of the free world cowered behind his keyboard — tweeting against his Vice President for fulfilling the duties of his oath to the Constitution.”
Sasse said in a written statement, “Lies have consequences. This violence was the inevitable and ugly outcome of the President’s addiction to constantly stoking division.”
Despite Trump’s repeated claims of voter fraud, election officials and his own former attorney general have said there were no problems on a scale that would change the outcome. All the states have certified their results as fair and accurate, by Republican and Democratic officials alike.
Arizona was the first of several states facing objections from the Republicans as Congress took an alphabetical reading of the election results. Then the chaos erupted.