'An assault on democracy itself:' Michigan officials react to U.S. Capitol invasion

As protesters and rioters who support President Donald Trump stormed the U.S. Capitol Wednesday, Michigan lawmakers and officials — some of whom had to shelter in place in their offices or evacuate the Capitol chambers — denounced rioters and urged peace.

In a video message, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said she was "appalled" and "furious" about the day's events.

"We've had an election. We've voted. It is time to move forward as a nation," the Lansing Democrat said. "The actions of these people who are trying to stage a coup and wreak violence on the very foundation of our democracy is appalling and abhorrent and I am hopeful that people of good will on both sides of the aisle will join me in calling for calm and peace and pledging out fidelity to the nation over party, over personality."

U.S. Capitol Police try to hold back protesters outside the east doors to the House side of the U.S. Capitol, Wednesday, Jan 6, 2021.

Whitmer also issued a joint statement with Republican former Gov. Rick Snyder calling for national unity. 

"While we come from different backgrounds and political parties, Gov. Whitmer and I share a deep love for our country," Snyder said. "We must always remember that we are Americans first, and we are not one another’s enemy."

U.S. Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Detroit, considered the president's encouragement of protesters egregious enough that she called for Trump's removal from office.

"This is on Donald Trump, period," Tlaib tweeted. "He called folks to D.C. and gave them marching orders. He needs to be impeached and removed immediately."

The Democratic-led U.S. House impeached Trump in 2019, but the Senate voted to acquit the Republican president. 

"What's happening right now is literally an assault on democracy itself. The president of the United States has encouraged his supporters" to storm the Capitol, U.S. Rep. Andy Levin, D-Bloomfield Township, said in a Facebook live broadcast. 

"Think about all the times that Donald Trump encouraged police to be more violent," Levin added. "Every time one of my Republican colleagues didn't call out this behavior, didn't criticize the president's extra-democratic tendencies, they were contributing to this moment."

Congress convened a joint session Wednesday to certify electoral votes, a process that a group of Republican lawmakers sought to derail in a bid to overturn the election of President-elect Joe Biden. What began as a protest outside the Capitol escalated into an unprecedented breach of the building and resulted in the shooting death of an unidentified woman.

U.S. Rep. Andy Levin holds a town hall meeting about the EV Freedom Act at Royal Oak Middle School in Royal Oak, Mich. on Mar. 1, 2020.

The mob insurrection unfolded as the House and Senate debated Arizona's electoral votes for Democratic President-elect Joe Biden. Then Trump supporters stormed the east front barricade outside of the Capitol, and the building was "locked down."

The House and Senate went in recess about 2:15 p.m. and the floors were eventually evacuated as protesters got into the building. Top leaders, including Vice President Mike Pence, were escorted out of the chambers. Police evacuated at least one House office building where several Michigan House lawmakers have their offices.

About 6 p.m., the U.S. Capitol was cleared.

About 2:45 p.m., U.S. Rep. Elissa Slotkin, D-Holly, tweeted she and Levin were sheltered safely in her office because the office where Levin works was evacuated. 

"I have seen first hand today the bravery of the Capitol Police, and I’m thankful for their professionalism and dedication," Slotkin said. "Violence has absolutely no place in our politics. I implore protesters to remain peaceful in exercising their First Amendment rights, and I urge my colleagues to recognize where their actions have led us."

In a tweet, U.S. Rep. Dan Kildee, D-Flint Township, confirmed that he was safe and said the president "and every single Republican who incited and encouraged this behavior must denounce it immediately."

U.S. Rep. Elissa Slotkin.

Trump later tweeted out a video message in which he urged the rioters to leave the Capitol peacefully and go home, but continued to lie about the election results. Trump ended the message by telling his supporters: "We love you. You're very special."

"The threatening behavior taking place at the U.S. Capitol is dangerous and unacceptable," tweeted U.S. Rep. Tim Walberg, R-Tipton, who is supporting the challenge of electoral votes in certain states. "It is a foundational right to protest peacefully, but violence is never the answer. Grateful for the men and women of the @CapitolPolice who are keeping us safe."

Tim Walberg

"I’ve said it dozens of times in the past few years — I support every American’s right to peacefully protest, but violence and attacks on our police have no place on our streets, or in our Capitol," tweeted U.S. Rep. Jack Bergman, R-Watersmeet, who also planned on supporting the challenge of some electoral votes for Biden.

"What we are seeing is disgraceful," Bergman said. "The Capitol Police saved my life on the baseball field just over 3 years ago and they protect our Nation everyday. Attacks on any of them, innocent civilians, or any elected official should be met with the full force of the law."

U.S. Rep. Fred Upton, R-St. Joseph

U.S. Rep. Fred Upton, R-St. Joseph, wrote on Twitter that he was "horrified and shell-shocked by the violence of rioters trying to undo the constitutional transfer of power. (Trump) for the sake of our nation and safety of our people, tell your supporters to stand down and leave town."

U.S. Rep. Haley Stevens, D-Rochester Hills, tweeted about 1:45 p.m. that she was sheltering in her office: "I can't believe I have to write this." Forty-five minutes later, she tweeted simply: "I love my country."

State lawmakers also decried the storming of the U.S. Capitol. Michigan House Speaker-elect Jason Wentworth, R-Farwell, condemned the riot. 

"We are a nation of rules and respect, and we need to demand both of ourselves," Wentworth said. "America is a beautiful and special place, but this is a tragic moment in our history that obscures our legacy."

U.S. Rep. Haley Stevens speaks at the Canvass Kickoff event at the Troy Community Center in Troy, Mich. in Detroit on Oct. 25, 2020.

Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey, R-Clarklake, called the violence at the Capitol "a disgrace."

"Today should have been a peaceful event," Shirkey said in a statement. "I condemn the actions of the individuals who threatened our members of Congress and our Republic. They are criminals who should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law."

Both men were among several Michigan GOP lawmakers to meet with Trump after the November election. 

In a statement, Michigan Senate Democrats said: “As we saw firsthand several months ago, there are people in our country who do not believe in our nation's values and who remain intent on fostering intimidation and disturbing the foundations of our democracy. Michigan was a lesson in this area that went unheard."

“Those who have encouraged these criminals to act and those who remain silent are complicit in today's dangerous events in Washington," the 16 senators said. "History will remember this moment."

Republican National Committee Chair Ronna McDaniel was in the U.S. House chamber. The Northville resident criticized the protesters for the violent incursion.

"Anyone who thinks they are helping the country by participating in this is wrong, and you should listen to the brave men and women in law enforcement and leave the Capitol," McDaniel tweeted.

U.S. Attorney Matthew Schneider, who was nominated by Trump to serve as the top law enforcement officer in Metro Detroit, tweeted: "The violent protesters at the U.S. Capitol right now are committing crimes, and they must stop immediately. Our Constitution protects peaceful protests — not this. Just as the violence in our cities this summer was prosecuted, this violence should be treated the same under the law."

More than 100 days of racial injustice protests in Detroit remained largely peaceful.

Powerful trade and labor groups also slammed the storming of the Capitol.

Jay Timmons, president and CEO of the National Association of Manufacturers, described the mob members "armed thugs," called out Republicans for "adding fuel to the distrust that has enflamed violent anger," blamed Trump for inciting violence and urged lawmakers and Vice President Mike Pence to consider invoking the 25th Amendment to remove Trump from the presidency.

"This is not law and order. This is chaos. It is mob rule. It is dangerous. This is sedition and should be treated as such," Timmons said. “Across America today, millions of manufacturing workers are helping our nation fight the deadly pandemic that has already taken hundreds of thousands of lives. We are trying to rebuild an economy and save and rebuild lives. But none of that will matter if our leaders refuse to fend off this attack on America and our democracy — because our very system of government, which underpins our very way of life, will crumble.”

United Auto Workers President Rory Gamble described Wednesday as "a very sad day for our nation and our democracy" and urged the country "to work together to move forward and heal our nation.”

"... The violence at the Capitol today is a deliberate and despicable attempt by extremists to disrupt our great republic," Gamble said in a statement. "We are better than that and today above all, we must remember that there is more that unites us than divides us. There is absolutely no room for this type of mob rule in a functioning democratic system."

Some of Michigan's top business leaders also decried what happened. 

GM CEO Mary Barra

"The peaceful transition of power is a cornerstone of American democracy, and regardless of politics the violence at the U.S. Capitol does not reflect who we are as a nation," General Motors Co. CEO Mary Barra tweeted. "It’s imperative that we come together as a country and reinforce the values and ideals that unite us."

Ford Motor Co. Chairman Bill Ford and CEO Jim Farley, in a note to employees, characterized the events as "destructive acts against our shared principles and beliefs."

"There are no easy lessons to learn from this moment. It is clear that there will be more difficult days ahead as our country tries to overcome the things that challenge and divide us: a public health crisis, the lack of faith in public institutions and a fractured sense of what we value as Americans," they wrote. "These problems can and must be resolved. And, we have to take it upon ourselves to be leaders in our homes and in our communities." 

In a tweet, Farley, condemned the actions as "violent and undemocratic."

jgrzelewski@detroitnews.com

mburke@detroitnews.com