'Coup attempt': US Congress to resume counting electoral votes after protesters storm Capitol

In a scene of unrest seldom witnessed in the history of the US capital, hundreds of people in the mob barrelled past fence barricades outside the Capitol and clashed with officers

The New York Times January 07, 2021 06:20:13 IST
'Coup attempt': US Congress to resume counting electoral votes after protesters storm Capitol

Protestors climb onto the Capitol in Washington on Wednesday. By Jason Andrew © 2021 The New York Times

Lawmakers will resume counting Electoral College votes Wednesday, hours after a mob of Donald Trump loyalists stormed the Capitol, Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California said as she vowed that the attack would not “deter us from our responsibility to validate the election of Joe Biden.”

In a letter to colleagues, Pelosi said she had reached that decision after consulting with her leadership team and a series of calls with the Pentagon, the Department of Justice and Vice-President Mike Pence. She made no mention of the president.

“We always knew this responsibility would take us into the night,” Pelosi wrote. “We also knew that we would be a part of history in a positive way today, despite ill-founded objections to the Electoral College vote. We now will be part of history, as such a shameful picture of our country was put out to the world, instigated at the highest level.”

Violence overtook the Capitol on Wednesday afternoon, when a mob of people loyal to President Donald Trump stormed the building, halting Congress’ counting of the electoral votes to confirm Biden’s victory as police evacuated lawmakers from the building in a scene of violence, chaos and disruption that shook the core of American democracy.

The sergeant-at-arms, the top security official at the Capitol, announced that the building had been secured around 5.40 pm.

The unrest prompted Mayor Muriel Bowser of Washington to declare a citywide curfew from 6 pm on Wednesday to 6 am on Thursday. The army is activating the entire District of Columbia National Guard — 1,100 troops — in response to a request from the mayor, an Army official said Wednesday.

The chaos began at around 2.15 pm, as the House and Senate debated a move by a faction of Republicans to overturn the election results, security rushed Pence out of the Senate chamber and the Capitol building was placed on lockdown after angry pro-Trump demonstrators surged past barricades and law enforcement toward the legislative chambers.

For a time, senators and members of the House were locked inside their respective chambers. Images posted on social media showed scenes of supporters violently tussling with the police as at least one person took to the dais of the Senate to declare his support for Trump.

A woman, who seemed to be part of the group that stormed the Capitol could be seen in a video posted on social media being shot inside the building. She was in critical condition with a wound to the neck, The Associated Press reported.

“This is what you’ve gotten, guys,” Senator Mitt Romney, R-Utah, yelled as the mayhem unfolded in the Senate chamber, apparently addressing his colleagues who were leading the charge to press Trump’s false claims of a stolen election.

“This is what the president has caused today, this insurrection,” Romney furiously said later.

Biden responded to the violence Wednesday, saying, “I call on [Trump] to go on national television now to fulfil his oath and defend the Constitution and demand an end to this siege.”

In a brief video posted to his Twitter account shortly after 4 pm, Trump repeated his baseless claim that “the election was stolen” and spoke in sympathetic and affectionate terms to members of the mob, advising them to “go home,” adding, “We love you.”

The posting came hours after Trump appeared at a rally in which he exhorted his supporters to go to the Capitol to register their discontent. Earlier in the afternoon, Trump tweeted statements intended to tamp down on the violence.

“Please support our Capitol Police and Law Enforcement,” he posted. “They are truly on the side of our Country. Stay peaceful!”

As the clashes intensified, he tweeted: “I am asking for everyone at the US Capitol to remain peaceful. No violence! Remember, WE are the Party of Law & Order — respect the Law and our great men and women in Blue.”

The extraordinary day in Washington laid bare deep divisions both between the two parties and within Republican ranks, when the ceremonial counting of electoral votes that unfolds every four years in Congress turned into an explosive spectacle, with Trump stoking the unrest.

Democratic lawmakers said the Capitol Police had instructed them to take cover on the floor and prepare to use gas masks after tear gas was dispersed in the Capitol Rotunda.

On the other side of the Capitol, Representative Steve Cohen, D-Tennessee, yelled out to Republicans on the House floor: “Call Trump, tell him to call off his revolutionary guards.”

In a scene of unrest common in other countries but seldom witnessed in the history of the US capital, hundreds of people in the mob barrelled past fence barricades outside the Capitol and clashed with officers. Shouting demonstrators mobbed the second floor lobby just outside the Senate chamber, as law enforcement officials placed themselves in front of the chamber doors.

Multiple lawmakers reported that the Capitol Police had instructed them to take cover on the House floor and prepare to use gas masks after tear gas was dispersed in the Capitol Rotunda of the Capitol. Shortly afterward, the police escorted senators and members of House from the building to others nearby, as the mob swarmed the hallways just steps from where lawmakers were meeting, carrying pro-Trump paraphernalia.

Representative Nancy Mace, a freshman Republican from South Carolina, described seeing people “assaulting Capitol Police.” In a Twitter post, Mace shared a video of the chaos and wrote, “This is wrong. This is not who we are. I’m heartbroken for our nation today.”

Other Republican lawmakers, locked inside the Capitol, used Twitter to urge the mob to be peaceful.

“This is a coup attempt,” said Representative Adam Kinzinger, R-Illinois.

And later Wednesday evening, former President George W Bush was also among the high-profile Republicans who sharply condemned what he called “mayhem” and a “violent assault on the Capitol.”

“This is how election results are disputed in a banana republic — not our democratic republic,” he said in a statement. “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.

“Insurrection could do grave damage to our nation and reputation,” he added. “In the United States of America, it is the fundamental responsibility of every patriotic citizen to support the rule of law.”

In the early afternoon, the police fired what appeared to be flash-bang grenades. Rather than disperse, the demonstrators cheered and shouted, “push forward, push forward.” One person shouted, “that’s our house,” meaning the Capitol. Other people repeatedly shouted, “You swore an oath.”

As officers and members of the mob clashed outside, lawmakers had been debating an objection to the certification of Arizona electors, ensconced in their respective chambers. Senator Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, the majority leader, warned of a “death spiral” for democracy, while Representative Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, listed a litany of accusations of election fraud with little evidence.

“I don’t recognize our country today, and the members of Congress who have supported this anarchy do not deserve to represent their fellow Americans,” said Representative Elaine Luria, D-Virginia.

Kevin McCarthy, the top Republican in the House urged the people to be peaceful.

Nicholas Fandos, Emily Cochrane, Eileen Sullivan, Glenn Thrush, Zolan Kanno-Youngs and Jonathan Martin c.2021 The New York Times Company

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