Americans watched in horror yesterday as the unthinkable happened. A group of pro-Trump extremists stormed the steps of the Capitol as a joint session of Congress met to certify the election of Joe Biden as president. As rioters breached the doors and occupied the most sacred halls of US government, the world held its breath. How did it all happen, and what’s coming next? Outgoing President Donald Trump remains defiant and non-compliant as his supporters upend over 200 years of tradition of peaceful transfer of power.
Congress Interrupted as Rioters Breach the Capitol
It started like any other joint session of Congress; with the promise of form, function, and bickering. At least 12 Senators and nearly 150 Representatives had signaled that they would object to the electoral votes that would certify Biden as the next president. While nearly unthinkable and certainly unusual, their objections did not have enough weight to sway the results, and it was likely that Biden would be certified over their objections.
As Congressional leaders trickled into the Capitol for this historic day, 2 miles away, Trump and his allies spoke before a crowd of several thousand supporters. Former New York mayor and Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s older sons, and other notable allies stirred up the crowd. They spoke about the great fraud of the election, which is disputed by Trump’s own election officials. They indicated that the election had been stolen from them, again a fact disputed by those who oversee elections. Trump has been suggesting in recent days that Vice President Mike Pence, whose job it is to open and certify the electoral votes after Congress has approved them, would be their last hope.
The outgoing president has pressured Pence to reject the certified results, thus being Trump’s last hope to avoid defeat in the 2020 election. However, Pence broke with Trump in a big way in the hours before the votes. Pence released a statement that read in part, “It is my considered judgement that my oath to support and defend the Constitution constrains me from claiming unilateral authority to determine which electoral votes should be counted and which should not.”
Ending the rally, Trump told supporters, “‘If you don’t fight like hell, you’re not going to have a country anymore.’ And encouraged them to head to the Capitol, promising to walk with them. However, Trump did not head to the Capitol. He returned to the White House, and turned on the TV. His supporters, egged on by the hours-long airing of grievances, stormed the Capitol. They destroyed four physical barriers preventing entry, and were eventually able to breach the front doors of the building, storming through the halls.
Capitol police had a lukewarm response, and resistance to the mob appeared scattered; a few pockets of tussles with police, some violent. One woman was shot and killed by Capitol PD as she refused to comply with orders. 3 other people perished due to unspecific, “medical emergencies.” 14 police officers were injured, some seriously, but none fatally.
Some of the mob managed to breach inner chambers, and one even photographed himself sitting at House Speaker Nancy Pelosi‘s desk. The same man later bragged about stealing mail from her desk, a federal offense in and of itself.
When the rioting started, the joints sessions of Congress were obliviously continuing in their duty, unaware of the chaos just outside. Both sessions were interrupted and chambers evacuated as the attempted insurrection moved closer, eventually leading to an armed stand-off at the doors to the House chamber between Capitol officers and armed rioters, who fired shots into the chamber. Parliamentary offices were ransacked, sensitive papers strewn everywhere, and several of the extremists pulled down American flags displayed outside and replaced them with Trump flags.
Behind the scenes, aides describe Trump as physically and emotionally unreachable as the chaos unfolded. Those around him urged the outgoing president to speak up, to compel his supporters to go home, but it took hours before the president would appear with a message.
Trump’s Warm Message to His Followers Leaves GOP Leaders Stunned
While his supporters ran roughshod over the nation’s halls of power, both Democratic and Republican leaders called on Trump to deescalate the situation by encouraging his followers to go home. Trump finally did, but he may have made things worse. Bloombergreports on the video, “‘I know your pain, I know your 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, repeating false claims about his defeat in a recorded video released Wednesday. ‘But you have to go home now. We have to have peace, we have to have law and order.’
He later abdicated responsibility for the occupation of the Capitol, blaming the incident on an election outcome he again falsely described as rigged against him and his supporters.
‘These are the things and events that happen when a sacred landslide election victory is so unceremoniously & viciously stripped away from great patriots who have been badly & unfairly treated for so long,’ he said in a tweet that Twitter disabled from sharing ‘due to a risk of violence,’ according a notice the company appended to the message.”
Much of Trump’s popularity has grown due to his ability to connect directly with supporters, an unprecedented privilege granted the outgoing President from people’s increased connectivity with social media.
However, he may have finally taken it too far, as Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube removed the video due to concerns that it would incite violence, and Twitter temporarily banned him from the platform. While Twitter’s ban was supposed to be 12 hours, internal discussions at the company suggest that many consider his use of their platform dangerous, and a longer ban may be incoming. Facebook was less equivocating. Per the Verge, “‘The shocking events of the last 24 hours clearly demonstrate that President Donald Trump intends to use his remaining time in office to undermine the peaceful and lawful transition of power to his elected successor, Joe Biden,’ said [Facebook CEO Mark] Zuckerberg. ‘We are extending the block we have placed on his Facebook and Instagram accounts indefinitely and for at least the next two weeks until the peaceful transition of power is complete.'”
This turn of events marks the first time the social media giants have taken such a serious stance against Trump.
Against the backdrop of these electronic chastisements, GOP leaders tweeted and spoke about their dismay and disappointment. Trump surrogate and right-fighter Senator Lindsey Graham spoke on the Senate floor, saying, “Trump and I, we had a h–l of a journey…I hate it being this way. Oh my god I hate it … but today all I can say is count me out. Enough is enough. I tried to be helpful.”
Former Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell also had harsh words for his erstwhile allies. Per CNN, “‘The voters, the courts, and the states have all spoken,’ McConnell said from the floor of the Senate Wednesday afternoon. ‘If we overrule them all, it would damage our republic forever. … If this election were overturned by mere allegations from the losing side, our democracy would enter a death spiral. We’d never see the whole nation accept an election again.’
McConnell went on. ‘We cannot keep drifting apart into two separate tribes… with separate facts, and separate realities … with nothing in common except hostility toward each another and mistrust for the few national institutions that we still share.’
And, finally, this: ‘It would be unfair and wrong to disenfranchise American voters and overrule the courts and the states on this thin basis. And I will not pretend such a vote would be a harmless protest gesture while relying on others to do the right thing.'”
Staunch Trump critic and conservative leader Senator Mitt Romney also had harsh words for the president and his supporters per NY Times political correspondent Jonathan Martin; “@MittRomney summoned me as lawmakers and press arrived at a secure location
‘This is what the president has caused today, this insurrection,’ he said w fury in his voice.”
Biden Certified as 46th President Late in the Night as Congress Resumes Duty
Despite the chaos, the National Guard eventually arrived and cleared the Capitol. But even this deployment had unusual components. Typically, the president as the Commander in Chief would be the only one with the power to deploy the National Guard. Trump refused to, and Pence stepped in, ordering the deployment. This led many to question who was actually in charge late yesterday.
Once the smoke had settled, Congress reconvened. Those Senators and Representatives willing to sustain their objection to Biden’s certification narrowed. As the vote counts came in, only 7 Senators sustained objections, and over 100 Representatives. Senators Josh Hawley and Ted Cruz, blamed by colleagues and voters for their incitement of the mob earlier in the day, were blasted for sustaining their objections in the face of the unrest. However, as expected, their objections weren’t enough to disrupt the process and just before 4AM on Thursday, Pence announced that Biden’s win had been certified.
Fortune reports, “Pence, as the session came to an end, said the count ‘shall be deemed a sufficient declaration’ of Biden’s victory, but offered no words of congratulations to the incoming administration. It capped an extraordinary day of chaos, violence and division after a pro-Trump mob stormed the Capitol, sending lawmakers into hiding and delaying the proceeding.”
What Happens Next?
All there’s left to do to transfer power is the inauguration, an important but largely ceremonial gesture. Biden is now the certified 46th President, and nothing the outgoing president or his followers say or do will change that.
But how does a country come back from what happened yesterday? The answer to that question remains far more elusive. Overwhelming consensus seems to be that what happened yesterday was a disgusting display of privilege and poor behavior. But is that consensus enough to drive unity? Florida Representative Matt Gaetz and others have tried to argue that Antifa infiltrators were responsible for the failed takeover yesterday. However, that argument appears as unfounded as the elector objections and likely to remain unproven. Many of the attempted insurrectionists are well-known white nationalists and gleefully filmed or photographed themselves in action yesterday.
Over 50 people have been arrested, but it remains to be seen how hard the courts will throw the book at them. This sort of thing is unprecedented in US history. Foreign terrorists storming the Capitol would be treated as such. But video from yesterday shows Capitol police engaging with the mob in a friendly manner at times, some even posing for selfies. So who’s going to arrest and punish them?
America woke on the 7th with an uneasy pit in collective stomachs. Uncertainty about what comes next or who will be the adult in the room hangs heavy in the air. Reports suggest that presidential aides have seriously discussed invoking the 25th Amendment to remove Trump from power. This amendment is traditionally considered to function as a way to transfer power from a president unable to discharge duties due to physical incapacity, but an argument could be made for mental incapacity. Nearly 50 Representatives have already signaled their intent to impeach the president again, a lengthy process unlikely to be completed before he formally leaves office on the 20th.
So what will the next 13 days bring? It’s anyone’s guess. Trump has remained defiant even in social media exile, and it’s hard to guess what he will do when his electronic voice is returned.
Meanwhile in Georgia, Democrats Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock won their respective run-off races, changing the balance of power in the Senate. Democrats and Republicans now hold 50 seats each in the Senate, with Democratic Vice President Kamala Harris to hold the tiebreaking vote when necessary. This shift demotes McConnell from Senate Majority Leader. After January 20th, Democrats will hold 2 of the 3 branches of government, leaving only the Judicial in Republican hands. It’s anticipated that the Democrat majority will swiftly overturn many of Trump’s 11th hour policy changes and work quickly to send $2,000 stimulus checks to hurting American families.
AP reports that Trump has agreed to an orderly transfer of power; “President Donald Trump now says there ‘will be an orderly transition on January 20th’ after Congress concluded the electoral vote count certifying President-elect Joe Biden’s victory and after a day of violence when his supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol.
Trump says in a statement tweeted by his social media director Dan Scavino, ‘Even though I totally disagree with the outcome of the election, and the facts bear me out, nevertheless there will be an orderly transition on January 20th.’
He adds: ‘I have always said we would continue our fight to ensure that only legal votes were counted. While this represents the end of the greatest first term in presidential history, it’s only the beginning of our fight to Make America Great Again.’”
It’s thought that he may have reluctantly agreed to the statement to stave off the wave of resignations that began occurring in the hours after the Capitol unrest. It’s also possible it was in the hope of forestalling more discussion of invoking the 25th Amendment. Most people remain skeptical that Trump means what he says, or that it was even Trump making the statement. Time will tell.
But the country has to survive until the 20th, first. For now, everyone holds their breath and waits to see where the chips fall as power is jockeyed and discussed in Washington. All eyes are on Pence, the president’s cabinet, the outgoing president, and Congress.