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Chaos in Washington

Trump backers storm US Capitol, halting Senate meeting to certify Biden win

Egged on by the president, demonstrators breach seat of American government in unprecedented scenes; staffers barricade themselves in offices

  • Supporters of US President Donald Trump protest inside the US Capitol on January 6, 2021, in Washington, DC. (ROBERTO SCHMIDT / AFP)
    Supporters of US President Donald Trump protest inside the US Capitol on January 6, 2021, in Washington, DC. (ROBERTO SCHMIDT / AFP)
  • Police hold off Trump supporters who tried to break through a police barrier, Wednesday, January 6, 2021, at the Capitol in Washington. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)
    Police hold off Trump supporters who tried to break through a police barrier, Wednesday, January 6, 2021, at the Capitol in Washington. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)
  • Trump supporters try to break through a police barrier, Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021, at the Capitol in Washington (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)
    Trump supporters try to break through a police barrier, Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021, at the Capitol in Washington (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)
  • Papers and gas masks are left behind after House of Representatives members left the floor of the House chamber as protesters try to break into the chamber at the US Capitol on Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
    Papers and gas masks are left behind after House of Representatives members left the floor of the House chamber as protesters try to break into the chamber at the US Capitol on Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
  • US President Donald Trump speaks to supporters near the White House on January 6, 2021, in Washington, DC. (Brendan Smialowski / AFP)a
    US President Donald Trump speaks to supporters near the White House on January 6, 2021, in Washington, DC. (Brendan Smialowski / AFP)a
  • Richard Barnett, a supporter of US President Donald Trump, sits inside the office of US Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi inside the US Capitol in Washington, DC, January 6, 2021. (Saul Loeb/AFP)
    Richard Barnett, a supporter of US President Donald Trump, sits inside the office of US Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi inside the US Capitol in Washington, DC, January 6, 2021. (Saul Loeb/AFP)
  • Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Vice President Mike Pence talk during a joint session of Congress at the US Capitol on January 6, 2021 in Washington, DC. (J. Scott Applewhite-Pool/Getty Images/AFP)
    Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Vice President Mike Pence talk during a joint session of Congress at the US Capitol on January 6, 2021 in Washington, DC. (J. Scott Applewhite-Pool/Getty Images/AFP)
  • President Donald Trump speaks at the "Stop The Steal" Rally on January 06, 2021 in Washington, DC (Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images/AFP)
    President Donald Trump speaks at the "Stop The Steal" Rally on January 06, 2021 in Washington, DC (Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images/AFP)
  • Supporters of President Donald Trump flock to the National Mall by the tens of thousands for a rally on January 6, 2021 in Washington, DC. (Samuel Corum/Getty Images/AFP)
    Supporters of President Donald Trump flock to the National Mall by the tens of thousands for a rally on January 6, 2021 in Washington, DC. (Samuel Corum/Getty Images/AFP)
  • A pro-Trump mob gathers inside the Senate chamber in the U.S. Capitol after groups stormed the building on January 06, 2021 in Washington, DC. (Win McNamee/Getty Images/AFP)
    A pro-Trump mob gathers inside the Senate chamber in the U.S. Capitol after groups stormed the building on January 06, 2021 in Washington, DC. (Win McNamee/Getty Images/AFP)
  • A pro-Trump mob enters the Roturnda of the U.S. Capitol Building on January 06, 2021 in Washington, DC. ( Win McNamee/Getty Images/AFP)
    A pro-Trump mob enters the Roturnda of the U.S. Capitol Building on January 06, 2021 in Washington, DC. ( Win McNamee/Getty Images/AFP)
  • People shelter in the House gallery as protesters try to break into the House Chamber at the US Capitol on Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
    People shelter in the House gallery as protesters try to break into the House Chamber at the US Capitol on Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
  • A protester sits in the Senate Chamber, at the platform where Vice President Pence had been minutes earlier, on January 6, 2021 in Washington, DC (Win McNamee/Getty Images/AFP)
    A protester sits in the Senate Chamber, at the platform where Vice President Pence had been minutes earlier, on January 6, 2021 in Washington, DC (Win McNamee/Getty Images/AFP)

WASHINGTON — The US Capitol locked down Wednesday after protesters breached barricades amid violent clashes between President Donald Trump’s supporters and Capitol police, in unprecedented scenes for the seat of American democracy.

Both chambers of Congress abruptly recessed as they were debating the Electoral College vote that gave Joe Biden the presidency.

There was confusion in the House chamber as the Capitol doors were locked and debate was suspended. A representative from the Capitol police spoke from a lectern on the dais and told lawmakers to remain calm, and that more information would be available soon.

An announcement was played inside the Capitol as lawmakers were meeting and expected to vote to affirm Joe Biden’s victory. Due to an “external security threat,” no one could enter or exit the Capitol complex, the recording said.

Footage posted online shows clashes inside the Congressional building. Staffers and officials were told to hide in their rooms, according to CNN.

Members of Congress inside the House chamber were told by police at one point to put on gas masks after tear gas was dispersed in the Capitol Rotunda.

The skirmishes occurred outside in the very spot where President-elect Biden will be inaugurated in just two weeks. They came shortly after Trump addressed thousands of his supporters, riling up the crowd with his baseless claims of election fraud.

The mayor of Washington, DC ordered a curfew in the capital beginning at 6 p.m. local time.

As demonstrators swarmed the US Capitol, Congress was forced to abruptly halt deliberations over Republican challenges to Joe Biden’s presidential victory.

Before the rioting and chaos erupted, lawmakers had convened for an extraordinary joint session to confirm the Electoral College results but protests erupted outside the Capitol and government office buildings were being evacuated.

Though fellow Republicans were behind the challenge to Biden’s 306-232 Electoral College victory, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell sought to lower tensions and argued against it. He warned the country “cannot keep drifting apart into two separate tribes” with “separate facts.”

McConnell declared, “The voters, the courts and the states all have spoken.

“This election, actually, was not unusually close,” McConnell said. “The Electoral College margin is almost identical to what it was in 2016… If this election were overturned by mere allegations from the losing side, our democracy would enter a death spiral.”

Trump supporters try to break through a police barrier, Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021, at the Capitol in Washington (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

But other Republicans, including House GOP leaders among Trump’s allies, were acting out the pleas of supporters at his huge Wednesday rally up Pennsylvania Avenue outside the White House to “fight for Trump.”

“We have to fix this,” said Rep. Steve Scalise of Louisiana, the GOP whip.

The last-gasp effort was all but certain to fail, defeated by bipartisan majorities in Congress prepared to accept the November results. Biden is to be inaugurated Jan. 20.

Still, Trump vowed to he would “never concede” and urged the massive crowd to march to the Capitol where hundreds had already gathered under tight security.

“We will never give up,” Trump told his noontime rally.

President Donald Trump speaks at the “Stop The Steal” Rally on January 6, 2021 in Washington, DC (Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images/AFP)

Vice President Mike Pence was closely watched as he stepped onto the dais to preside over the joint session in the House chamber.

Pence has a largely ceremonial role, opening the sealed envelopes from the states after they are carried in mahogany boxes used for the occasion, and reading the results aloud. But he was under growing pressure from Trump to overturn the will of the voters and tip the results in the president’s favor, despite having no legal power to affect the outcome.

“Do it Mike, this is a time for extreme courage!” Trump tweeted Wednesday.

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.

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.

Arizona was the first of several states facing objections from the Republicans as Congress took an alphabetical reading of the election results.

Biden won Arizona by more than 10,000 votes, and eight lawsuits challenging the results have failed. The state’s Supreme Court on Wednesday upheld the dismissal of an election challenge.

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Vice President Mike Pence talk during a joint session of Congress at the US Capitol on January 6, 2021 in Washington, DC. (J. Scott Applewhite-Pool/Getty Images/AFP)

The joint session of Congress, required by law, convened before a watchful, restless nation — months after the election, two weeks before the inauguration’s traditional peaceful transfer of power and against the backdrop of a surging COVID-19 pandemic.

Lawmakers were told by Capitol officials to arrive early, due to safety precautions with protesters in Washington. Visitors, who typically fill the galleries to watch landmark proceedings, were not allowed under COVID-19 restrictions.

The session also came as overnight results from Georgia’s runoff elections put Democrats within reach of a Senate majority.

With the Senate results from Georgia streaming in and Democrats within reach of controlling the chamber, Trump amplified his pleas to stay in office as a veto check on the rival party. At the rally he said he had just talked to Pence and criticized Republicans who are not willing to fight for him as “weak.”

While other vice presidents, including Al Gore and Richard Nixon, also presided over their own defeats, Pence supports those Republican lawmakers mounting challenges to the 2020 outcome.

It’s not the first time lawmakers have challenged results. Democrats did in 2017 and 2005. But the intensity of Trump’s challenge is like nothing in modern times, and an outpouring of current and elected GOP officials warn the showdown is sowing distrust in government and eroding Americans’ faith in democracy.

Supporters of President Donald Trump flock to the National Mall by the tens of thousands for a rally on January 6, 2021 in Washington, DC. (Samuel Corum/Getty Images/AFP)

Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, told reporters on Capitol Hill that Trump’s election challenge has “disgraced the office of the presidency.”

“We’ll proceed as the Constitution demands and tell our supporters the truth — whether or not they want to hear it,” Romney said.

Still, more than a dozen Republican senators led by Josh Hawley of Missouri and Ted Cruz of Texas, along with as many as 100 House Republicans, were pressing ahead to raise objections to individual states’ reports of Biden’s wins.

Under the rules of the joint session, any objection to a state’s electoral tally needs to be submitted in writing by at least one member of the House and one of the Senate to be considered. Each objection will force two hours of deliberations in the House and Senate, ensuring a long day.

House Republican lawmakers are signing on to objections to the electoral votes in six states — Arizona, Georgia, Nevada, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.

Hawley has said he will object to the election results from Pennsylvania, almost ensuring a second two-hour debate despite resistance from the state’s Republican senator, Pat Toomey, who said the tally of Biden’s win is accurate.

Sen. Kelly Loeffler may challenge the results in her state of Georgia. She was defeated in Georgia’s runoff to Democrat Raphael Warnock, but was welcomed by crowds of lawmakers in the chamber. She can remain a senator until he is sworn into office.

Georgia Democratic candidates for US Senate Raphael Warnock, left, and Jon Ossoff, right, gesture toward a crowd during a campaign rally in Marietta, Georgia, November 15, 2020. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson, File)

The other Senate runoff race between Republican David Perdue and Democrat Jon Ossoff remained too early to call Wednesday, though Ossoff declared he won. Perdue, who was seeking reelection, is ineligible to vote in the Senate because his term expired with the start of the new Congress Sunday.

The group led by Cruz is vowing to object unless Congress agrees to form a commission to investigate the election, but that seems unlikely.

Those with Cruz are Sens. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, James Lankford of Oklahoma, Steve Daines of Montana, John Kennedy of Louisiana, Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee, Mike Braun of Indiana, Cynthia Lummis of Wyoming, Roger Marshall of Kansas, Bill Hagerty of Tennessee and Tommy Tuberville of Alabama.

Many of the Republicans challenging the results said they are trying to give voice to voters back home who don’t trust the outcome of the election and want to see the lawmakers fighting for Trump.

Hawley defended his role saying his constituents have been “loud and clear” about their distrust of the election. “It is my responsibility as a senator to raise their concerns,” he wrote to colleagues.

As criticism mounted, Cruz insisted his aim was “not to set aside the election” but to investigate the claims of voting problems. He has produced no new evidence.

Both Hawley and Cruz are potential 2024 presidential contenders, vying for Trump’s base of supporters.

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