ELECTION 2020

Trump supporters storm U.S. Capitol in bid to overturn election

President encourages supporters to 'remain peaceful,' but he is not calling for them to disperse

Supporters of President Donald Trump on Wednesday climb the west wall of the U.S. Capitol as a mob storms the congressio
Supporters of President Donald Trump on Wednesday climb the west wall of the U.S. Capitol as a mob storms the congressional session going on inside. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)
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WASHINGTON — A violent mob loyal to President Donald Trump stormed the U.S. Capitol 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 nation’s elected representatives scrambled to crouch under desks and don gas marks, while police futilely tried to barricade the building, one of the most jarring scenes ever to unfold in a seat of American political power. A woman was shot and killed inside the Capitol, and Washington’s mayor instituted a curfew in an attempt to contain the violence.

The rioters were egged on by Trump, who has spent weeks falsely attacking the integrity of the election and had urged his supporters to descend on Washington to protest Congress’ formal approval of Biden’s victory. Some Republican lawmakers were in the midst of raising objections to the results on his behalf when the proceedings were abruptly halted by the mob.

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Together, the protests and the GOP election objections amounted to an almost unthinkable challenge to American democracy and exposed the depths of the divisions that have coursed through the country during Trump’s four years in office.

Though the efforts to block Biden from being sworn in Jan. 20 were sure to fail, the support Trump has for his efforts to overturn the election results have badly strained the nation’s democratic guardrails.

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Congress reconvened Wednesday evening, with senators decrying the protests that defaced the Capitol and vowing to finish confirming the Electoral College vote for Biden’s election, even if it took all night.

Vice President Mike Pence, reopening the Senate, directly addressed the demonstrators: “You did not win.”

Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said the “failed insurrection” underscored lawmakers’ duty to confirm the vote. Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Congress would show the world “what America is made of” by finishing the count.

Trump gave his supporters a boost into action Wednesday morning at a rally outside the White House, where he urged them to march to the Capitol. He spent much of the afternoon in his private dining room off the Oval Office watching scenes of the violence on television. At the urging of his staff, he reluctantly issued a pair of tweets and a taped video telling his supporters it was time to “go home in peace” yet he still said he backed their cause.

Hours later, Twitter for the first time locked Trump’s account, demanded that he remove tweets excusing violence and threatened “permanent suspension.”

A somber President-elect Biden, two weeks away from being inaugurated, said democracy was “under unprecedented assault,“ a sentiment echoed by many in Congress, including some Republicans.

The domed Capitol building has for centuries been the scene of protests and occasional violence. But Wednesday’s events were particularly astounding both because they unfolded at least initially with the implicit blessing of the president and because of the underlying goal of overturning the results of a free and fair presidential election.

Tensions were already running high when lawmakers gathered Wednesday afternoon for the constitutionally mandated counting of the Electoral College results, in which Biden defeated Trump, 306-232. Despite pleas from Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, more than 150 GOP lawmakers initially planned to support objections to some of the results, though lacking evidence of fraud or wrongdoing.

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Trump spent the lead-up to the proceedings publicly hectoring Pence, who had a largely ceremonial role, to aid the effort to throw out the results. He tweeted: “Do it Mike, this is a time for extreme courage!”

But Pence, defying Trump, said he could not claim “unilateral authority” to reject the results.

In the aftermath of the mob attack, several Republicans announced they would drop their objections to the election, including Sen. Kelly Loeffler, R-Ga., who lost her bid for reelection.

Iowa Republican Sens. Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst, who would not say before Wednesday how they would vote, both opposed upholding the objection that came up first for a vote — that of the Arizona results.

In a statement, Ernst said she supports a proposal from Republican Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina to “establish a bipartisan commission to study the integrity and administration of the election.”

Shortly after the first GOP objections were raised Wednesday afternoon, protesters fought past police and breached the building, shouting and waving Trump and American flags as they marched through the halls. Lawmakers were told to duck under their seats for cover and put on gas masks after tear gas was used in the Capitol Rotunda. Some House lawmakers tweeted they were sheltering in place in their offices.

Rep. Scott Peters, D-Calif., told reporters he was in the House chamber when rioters began storming it. Security officers “made us all get down, you could see that they were fending off some sort of assault.” He said they had a piece of furniture up against the door, the entry to the House floor from the Rotunda. “And they had guns pulled,” Peters said.

Staff members grabbed the boxes of Electoral College votes as the evacuation took place. Otherwise, said Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., the ballots likely would have been destroyed by the rioters.

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Several in Congress suggested that Trump be prosecuted for a crime, which seemed unlikely two weeks from when his term expires.

“I think Donald Trump probably should be brought up on treason for something like this,” Rep. Jimmy Gomez, D-Calif., told reporters. “This is how a coup is started. And this is how democracy dies.”

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