'This is America?' Protesters cleared out after breaching Capitol; one dead
Washington — Months of tensions over unfounded claims of widespread voter fraud reached a chaotic climax Wednesday when a group of Trump supporters breached the U.S. Capitol as lawmakers started their debate whether to certify the presidential election, resulting in one person being fatally shot.
As members of Congress were initially locked down and then evacuated to safe locations by mid-afternoon, police officers were injured while holding off the protesters. Eventually, the National Guard was deployed, turning a traditionally unremarkable procedural day into a historic one.
The Capitol was cleared of protesters by 6 p.m., and Congress restarted the proceedings later Wednesday evening. A representative from Georgia challenged Michigan's results around midnight, saying 70 of her colleagues had signed on to the objection. However, no senator had agreed, and the state's electoral votes were certified.
By the end of the tumultuous day, media reports were surfacing that some members of the president's own cabinet were considering resigning from their posts or even invoking a provision in the U.S. Constitution to remove him from office.
The U.S. House and Senate were meeting to certify the Electoral College votes in a ceremony that is typically perfunctory but was challenged in certain states by some GOP senators and representatives, citing unproven claims of voter fraud pushed by President Donald Trump.
One Republican representative with the support of other House members and a senator had challenged Arizona's results — with the expectation that Michigan might be challenged later in the day — when hundreds of people protesting perceived election fraud overtook barriers surrounding the Capitol and clashed with police.
By approximately 10 p.m., the Senate overwhelmingly turned aside a challenge to President-elect Joe Biden's victory in Arizona, guaranteeing the result will stand. The objection to the results in Arizona — spearheaded by Rep. Paul Gosar and Sen. Ted Cruz — was rejected 93-6. All votes in favor came from Republicans, but after the Capitol was mobbed, a number of GOP senators who had planned to support the objection reversed course.
The House later voted 303-121 to reject the challenge.
Objections were raised to Pennsylvania's count as the night wore on. Lawmakers in the House voted 282-138 against the objection as the counting of Electoral College votes continued into the early hours of Thursday morning. The Senate shut down the same objection 92-7 just after midnight and, unlike the House, declined to debate before voting.
Before dawn Thursday, lawmakers completed their work, confirming Biden won the election.
Vice President Mike Pence, presiding over the joint session, announced the tally, 306-232.
Trump, who had repeatedly refused to concede the election, said in a statement immediately after the vote that there will be a smooth transition of power on Inauguration Day.
Rioters earlier stormed the building by breaking windows. Videos posted on Twitter also showed protesters scaling the building and waving Trump flags from scaffolding.
Video by Politico's Jake Sherman showed what he identified as a Federal Bureau of Investigation SWAT team coming inside the Capitol in camouflage gear and with weapons. After armed standoffs with the group and tear gas deployment, the House's sergeant at arms informed a pool of reporters that the Capitol had been cleared by around 5:45 p.m.
One woman was shot inside the Capitol, and a source familiar with the situation told the Associated Press that she later died. Scott Wong of The Hill told CSPAN that Capitol police officers were injured, while the Metropolitan Police Department reported minor injuries among its officers that didn't prevent them from continuing their work.
When the Senate reconvened shortly after 8 p.m. Wednesday, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer called Jan. 6 “one of the darkest days in recent American history” and placed blame on Trump and his enablers.
Addressing Americans who were “shocked and appalled” by the images emerging from the Capitol Wednesday, the New York Democrat promised them “Democracy will triumph as it has for centuries.”
“The divisions in our country clearly run deep but we are resilient, forward-looking, optimistic people and we will begin the hard work of repairing this nation tonight,” he said.
Across the aisle, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said before the reconvened chamber that “the United States Senate will not be intimidated” by the “unhinged mob” that stormed the Capitol and pledged to carry out the task of certifying the Electoral College vote Wednesday evening, as it has been for hundreds of years."
“Our nation was founded precisely so that the free choice of the American people is what shapes our self-government and determines the destiny of our nation,” the Kentucky Republican said. “Not fear, not force, but the peaceful expression of the popular will.”
As the two chambers debated whether to certify the election results and reflected on the unprecedented day, reports began surfacing of potential changes within the Trump administration.
Stephanie Grisham, chief of staff to first lady Melania Trump, resigned Wednesday afternoon.
Geoff Bennett of MSNBC wrote on Twitter that Trump's National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien, Deputy National Security Adviser Matt Pottinger and Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao were said to be considering resigning, while Jim Acosta of CNN tweeted that some Trump Cabinet members are considering whether to invoke the 25th Amendment to remove the president from office in the waning days of his presidency.
'This is America?'
The House and Senate went into recess after 2:15 p.m. and the floors were eventually evacuated as protesters got into the building. Several members of Michigan's congressional delegation were on the House floor at the time, including U.S. Reps. Tim Walberg, R-Tipton; Bill Huizenga, R-Holland; and Debbie Dingell, D-Dearborn.
Dingell told The Detroit News she was whisked off the floor after police and lawmakers barricaded the main doors to the chamber against rioters outside. The last thing she saw was "guns pointed."
“This is America? I could not believe this was happening in our democracy and hoped people were waking up at this horrific sight," she said.
Dingell said she knew things were bad when they took the leadership out of the chamber.
“But I was part of the plan to keep people calm so I was going to be recognized to speak," she said. "But when the crowd began to descend and gunshots rang out, we were told to get gas masks out we knew we had a problem."
Reps. Peter Meijer, R-Grand Rapids Township; Dan Kildee, D-Flint Township, and Jack Bergman, R-Watersmeet, were in the chamber's gallery. Kildee wrote on Twitter they were told to lie on the floor and put on gas masks as police drew guns on protesters attempting to burst through the front door of the chamber. All have said they were evacuated to a safe place.
Members of the press who were trapped in the House gallery were led out of the building. As media members left the chamber, there were four to five people down the hallway on the ground with their hands behind their heads. It was unclear if they had been trying to break into the House chamber or gallery.
Some members of the mob entered the Senate chamber, where video footage showed them walking around the floor and one sitting at the dais.
Police also evacuated at least one House office building, Cannon, where several Michigan House lawmakers have their offices. The Army activated the National Guard mid-afternoon, and Washington Mayor Muriel Bowser announced a citywide overnight curfew that began at 6 p.m.
Trump, meanwhile, urged the protesters to be peaceful after earlier saying at a rally that he wanted to march on the Capitol. In a video message released shortly after 4 p.m., Trump told the protesters to "go home and go home in peace" after repeating debunked election fraud claims and telling them "We love you. You're very special."
Michigan's federal lawmakers roundly condemned the insurrection, denouncing the rioters and urging them to leave the Capitol. Democrats expressed shock and fury as they fled the building. Rep. Haley Stevens, D-Rochester Hills, reported she was sheltering in place in her office, adding: "The building next door has been evacuated. I can’t believe I have to write this."
Kildee wrote on Twitter that "the President and every single Republican who incited and encouraged this behavior must denounce it immediately."
Some Republican lawmakers began criticizing the Trump protesters after evacuating the chamber floors, including Bergman and Walberg, who had planned to challenge Biden's victory Wednesday.
"The threatening behavior taking place at the U.S. Capitol is dangerous and unacceptable," Walberg tweeted. "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."
U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Florida, called the breach "3rd world style anti-American anarchy." U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, the Texas Republican who was leading a group of GOP senators in challenging the results from certain states, including Arizona, urged the prosecution of violent demonstrators.
Democratic President-elect Joe Biden, speaking from Wilmington, Delaware, said the protesters' rush on the Capitol was "not dissent, it's disorder" and called on them to "pull back and allow the work of democracy go forward."
Biden also pushed Trump to do more to stop his supporters: "The words of a president matter, no matter how good or bad that president is. At the best, the words of a president can inspire. At the worst, they can incite. Therefore, I call on President Trump to go on national television now to fulfill his oath and defend the Constitution and demand an end to this siege."
House and Senate Democratic leaders, including Schumer and U.S. Rep Nancy Pelosi of California, also called on Trump to "demand that all protesters leave the U.S. Capitol and Capitol Grounds immediately.”
Back to work
Two Michigan representatives were eager to get back to work certifying election results Wednesday evening.
U.S. Rep. John Moolenaar, R-Midland, said he intended to uphold his oath and support the U.S. Constitution by receiving electoral votes from each state that has certified its election. He didn't plan to contest them.
"Today demonstrates why it's important as a country that we have a system of governance that respects the rule of law, the checks and balances and we need to move forward with the peaceful transition of power," Moolenaar said. "This day only further emphasizes the importance of all of us as Americans being part of that."
Moolenaar said he's been a supporter of Trump as president as well as his reelection. He's worked with him on funding for the Great Lakes as well as a disaster declaration after historic flooding in Moolenaar's mid-Michigan district.
"I consider myself someone who has appreciated the service of our president. But now it’s time to have a transition and make sure we’re supporting highest ideals of our country," he said.
He was glad Trump encouraged protesters to go home and respect law enforcement but felt that it should have been "quicker and more direct."
"I would hope in the coming days he speaks to the importance of our nation coming together," Moolenaar said.
Moolenaar said he first was alerted of the ruckus when Capitol police knocked on the door of his office and ushered him to a secure location. They told him the perimeter had been breached and there were concerns of people rushing inside.
"It's disturbing and something I'd hoped I'd never see in this country," he said. "We are so much better than this."
U.S. Rep. Andy Levin, D-Bloomfield Township, said he's experienced a lot of disruptions of democracy in his career — namely as a human rights observer in Haiti, China and Gaza.
"But the idea that this is happening in the Capitol of the United States, that the president of the United States is encouraging an insurrection against democracy is just beyond belief," he said.
Levin said lawmakers weren't going to let the outburst stop them.
"We have a duty to review and accept the votes of the Electoral College from the 50 states," he said. "I'm on duty and not going anywhere. It's critical to the existence of our democracy. It's survival on the line here."
If Congress doesn't move forward, it would be a "dictatorship," he said.
Levin noted there's no way Trump's efforts would prevail. There aren't enough objecting senators and representatives to stop a majority of lawmakers from voting to reject challenges of electoral votes in certain states.
Levin argued Wednesday's events were the logical result of Trump's encouragement of violence, bullying and humiliation of people.
"He creates a mob that comes to try to overthrow democracy and he tells them to go do it," he said.
Staff Writer Beth LeBlanc contributed.