WASHINGTON — A violent mob 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 nation’s elected representatives scrambled to crouch under desks and don gas masks, 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 an evening 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.
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 on Jan. 20 were sure to fail, the support Trump has received for his efforts to overturn the election results have badly strained the nation’s democratic guardrails.
Congress reconvened in the evening, lawmakers 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. Lawmakers were still at it after midnight.
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.
Punctuating their resolve, both the House and Senate soundly defeated the first objection, to election results from Arizona that had been raised by Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and Rep. Paul Gosar, R-Ariz. Still, most House Republicans had voted for it. Proceedings pushed into the wee hours.
The president 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 American democracy was “under unprecedented assault, ” a sentiment echoed by many in Congress, including some Republicans. Former President George W. Bush said he watched the events in “disbelief and dismay.”
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 early 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 planned to support objections to some of the results, though lacking evidence of fraud or wrongdoing in the election.
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, in a statement shortly before presiding, defied Trump, saying he could not claim “unilateral authority” to reject the electoral votes that make Biden president.
In the aftermath, several Republicans announced they would drop their objections to the election, including Sen. Kelly Loeffler, R-Ga., who lost her bid for reelection Tuesday.
Earlier, protesters had 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. “And they had guns pulled,” Peters said.
The woman who was killed was part of a crowd that was breaking down the doors to a barricaded room where armed officers stood on the other side, police said. She was shot in the chest by Capitol Police and taken to a hospital where she was pronounced dead. City police said three other people died from medical emergencies during the long protest on and around the Capitol grounds.
Staff members grabbed 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 protesters.
The mob’s storming of Congress prompted outrage, mostly from Democrats but from Republicans as well, as lawmakers accused Trump of fomenting the violence with his relentless falsehoods about election fraud.
“Count me out,” said Trump ally Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C. “Enough is enough.”
Several suggested that Trump be prosecuted for a crime or even removed under the Constitution’s 25th Amendment, 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.”
Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., who’s at times clashed with Trump, issued a statement saying, “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.
The Pentagon said about 1,100 District of Columbia National Guard members were being mobilized to help support law enforcement at the Capitol. More than a dozen people were arrested.
As darkness fell, law enforcement officers worked their way toward the protesters, using percussion grenades to clear the area around the Capitol. Big clouds of tear gas were visible. Police in full riot gear moved down the steps, clashing with demonstrators.
Associated Press writers Jill Colvin, Kevin Freking, Alan Fram, Matthew Daly, Ben Fox and Ashraf Khalil in Washington and Bill Barrow in Atlanta contributed to this report.
U.S. Rep. Dan Newhouse was on the House floor Wednesday listening to members’ objections over electoral votes from Arizona when he received an email about the evacuation of the Cannon House Building.
Newhouse acted quickly, as his wife and staff were in his office there. He met them in the nearby Longworth House Building, where they remained for several hours while the Capitol was in lockdown after a mob of Trump supporters forced themselves into the building.
“We’ve been witnessing (what happened) as you have — watching it unfold on the news,” he said during a conference call with reporters Wednesday afternoon.
Newhouse was quick to denounce the actions of those Trump supporters on Twitter.
“I wholeheartedly condemn this violence,” Newhouse, a Sunnyside Republican, tweeted. “This is not who we are, and this needs to stop immediately.”
In the call with reporters, Newhouse said he was in a “state of disbelief” about what was occurring and was also “disgusted and horrified” by how things unfolded Wednesday. Newhouse said he supported people’s right to protest and freedom of speech but felt rioters crossed a line.
“This has gone beyond that,” he said. “It’s truly unfortunate for our country.”
Newhouse also criticized President Donald Trump, saying he did not act quickly enough. Newhouse has generally been supportive of Trump, though he didn’t always see eye-to-eye on Trump’s views on some policies, such as immigration.
“He should have stepped in sooner this afternoon to help calm the crowd,” he said. “Only he could have done that.”
Other local Republicans and Democrats shared Newhouse’s sentiment, a rare point of agreement.
“As the party chair of Yakima County, I do not support any of the violent actions that have taken place in Washington, D.C. None,” said Debra Manjarrez, chair of the Yakima County Republicans.
Susan Soto Palmer, a local advocate for progressive policy who is active with the Yakima County Democrats, called the actions by Trump supporters a “coup, not a protest.”
“I’m very sad for our country today,” Soto Palmer said.
Soto Palmer said, however, she was not surprised by what happened. When she was chair of the Yakima County Democrats, she warned local government and police officials of such a possibility shortly after President Donald J. Trump was elected in 2016.
“We’ve been holding our breath hoping what we are seeing today would not happen,” she said.
Meanwhile, in Olympia, pro-Trump protesters breached a barrier at the governor’s mansion Wednesday afternoon and gathered on the lawn next to the residence. The Washington State Patrol said Gov. Jay Inslee and his family and staff were safe.
State legislators, who will start their session Monday, were in a mock session as the protests were happening, said state Rep. Gina Mosbrucker.
Mosbrucker said some colleagues were in Olympia and were trying to leave as fast as possible. Wednesday’s protests were concerning, she said.
“When we see this violence and the burning of dumpsters in Olympia, the breaking of windows and people getting hurt, the protestors lose their message. We can’t hear them anymore,” she said.
Sen. Curtis King, R-Yakima, was not available for comment Wednesday but referred to a statement from state Senate Republican leader John Braun, R-Centralia, that condemned violence in Washington, D.C., and Olympia.
“What we are seeing at our nation’s Capitol today is unacceptable,” Braun said in his statement. “I condemned the violent protests here in our state and around the country this summer, and I condemn today’s actions just as strongly. Attacking the U.S. Capitol is no more justifiable than attacking our state capitol, or a police precinct, or private property that happens to be in a certain part of a city. No matter the reasoning behind it, violence is not the answer.”
Newhouse said he would not tolerate the use of violence in promoting change.
“I cannot say that strongly enough,” he said. “We have a system in place that only works if we respect each other, and we move forward.”
When asked by reporters, Newhouse stood by his decision to sign an amicus brief in support of a lawsuit from Texas challenging the 2020 presidential election results.
At the time, Newhouse said he did not want to overturn the results but address underlying issues with states using entities outside their respective Legislatures to select electors and establish systems. The U.S. Supreme Court tossed out the lawsuit.
When asked whether he felt his actions led to what happened today, he said, “Absolutely not.”
Newhouse stated earlier this week that he would certify the election results and not participate in Republican protests of the electoral votes.
On Wednesday, Newhouse said that his reading of the Constitution leads him to believe that Congress cannot do anything other than accept and count the electoral votes submitted by states.
“To truly stand up for the Constitution, we have to separate ourselves from what we like to see and follow the direction our founding fathers provided in the guiding papers of the Constitution,” he said.
But Newhouse maintains there were still legitimate questions that the court system could answer regarding what states could constitutionally do when forming election policies, which is why he co-signed on the amicus brief.
He said Trump supporters’ actions on Wednesday did little to advance their concerns regarding the 2020 presidential election. He noted that the violence at the Capitol prompted fellow U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris-Rogers to reverse her initial decision to object to the certification of Electoral College vote.
“They’ve done a disservice to the goals they had when they came to Washington, D.C.,” he said.
For both Democrat Soto Palmer and Republican Manjarrez, Wednesday’s violent incidents in Washington D.C. and Olympia showed a need to resolve deep political division.
“We’re playing politics,” Soto Palmer said. “And politics are causing so much chaos and divide in our country and has been for a long time.”
Manjarrez said that she and other local party leaders needed to talk to their base and advocate for peace, dialogue and conversation, including those with differing viewpoints. That has been absent for some time, she said.
“Once you passed the angry state, nobody is listening,” she said. “You’re just screaming at this point.”
Manjarrez lamented social media’s role in politics, calling platforms like Facebook and Twitter both the “best and worst invention.”
“It gives people not time to cool down and to think about reason,” she said. “It’s just reaction.”
Manjarrez said she and other Republican leaders need to set the example and push for dialogue on policies and veer away from personalities.
“We have to talk about issues,” she said.
Soto Palmer said she’s hopeful that the could be a way for people in this country to reengage in meaningful dialogue rather than get knee-deep into political labels.
“It’s going to require us to put our party policies aside and start determining together what are the best policies and government for all of us,” she said. “That’s going to take a lot of work and a lot of organizing.”
Newhouse said there is no “silver bullet” he can give regarding the county’s political division but said he would continue his work with various bipartisan groups in Congress.
“I’ve been active in different groups, working with people who I disagree with on the other side of the aisle so we can find common ground to find solutions to move our country forward,” he said.
He urged Americans to talk to others in person and spend less time on Twitter and Facebook.
“Let’s not become Republican or Democrat; let’s work together as Americans,” he said.
Reporter Tammy Ayer contributed to this story.