Congress Resumes Electoral Vote Tally After Mob’s Disruption
(Bloomberg) -- The House and Senate resumed a politically charged debate over the legitimacy of the presidential election hours after a pro-Trump mob stormed the U.S. Capitol and drove lawmakers from their chambers.
Senators continued debating a challenge to Arizona’s electoral vote count, brought by Representative Paul Gosar and other GOP lawmakers as an act of support for President Donald Trump’s baseless claims of vote fraud. The House was set to resume soon after.
Vice President Mike Pence, who is presiding over the electoral count in a joint session of Congress, called it a “dark day” in Washington as he gaveled the Senate back in session.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said the counting of the electoral votes would resume and be finished Wednesday night.
“The United States Senate will not be intimidated,” McConnell said. “We will certify the winner of the 2020 election.”
Congress was in the middle of arguing over objections to the electoral vote count from Arizona, an effort driven by a group of Republicans and encouraged by Trump, when lawmakers were forced to abruptly suspend the proceedings. Eventually they were hustled out of the House and Senate chambers by security as protesters surged into the Capitol, breaking windows and doors.
The violence took some of the steam out of the move to hold up the Electoral College certification and some lawmakers said they expected multiple objections would be dropped.
Indiana Senator Mike Braun, who had supported the objections, said he doesn’t want to pursue challenges after debate is finished with Arizona, which had been under way when the crowd smashed through doors and windows to enter the Capitol building.
“I think today changed things drastically,” Braun told reporters. “Whatever point you made before, that should suffice. And we can get this ugly day behind us.”
Senator James Lankford, an Oklahoma Republican and part of a group of GOP senators demanding appointment of a special commission to “audit” the Electoral College vote, said he recognized his goal would be unmet and Biden will be certified the winner of the presidential election.
“We will work together in this body to set a peaceful example in the days ahead,” he said on the Senate floor.
The counting of the Electoral College votes of the 50 states and Washington D.C., is typically a quadrennial formality for Congress. But Trump’s refusal to concede the election prompted some of his allies in Congress to contest the validity of the results in some of the states won by Joe Biden in November.
The objections are certain to be rejected by Democrats along with a number of GOP lawmakers. But the action hardened the bitter partisanship in Congress and exposed deep rifts in the Republican Party under Trump.
Republican Senator Mitt Romney, who frequently clashes with Trump, said the objections should be dropped.
GOP Representative Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington state said she is reversing course and will no longer object to certifying the Electoral College results.
“What we have seen today is unlawful and unacceptable. I have decided I will vote to uphold the Electoral College results and I encourage Donald Trump to condemn and put an end to this madness,” she said, according to the Spokesman-Review newspaper in Spokane.
House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy said he expected Congress will finish debating the Arizona electors but “I’m not sure what will carry on.” GOP objectors had planned to challenge the electoral votes from Arizona, Georgia and Pennsylvania.
Republican Representative Mike Gallagher of Wisconsin said the day’s events moved the U.S. into “banana republic territory.”
“I have to imagine that what’s happened in the last few hours has been sobering for the objectors, and that they’re not going to resume their objections,” Gallagher said.
Some Republicans were laying blame for the chaos and violence at Trump’s feet.
“We just had a violent mob assault the U.S. Capitol in an attempt to prevent us from carrying our constitutional duty,” Representative Liz Cheney, a member of House GOP leadership, said on Fox News. “And there’s no question the president formed the mob, the president incited the mob, the president addressed the mob, he lit the flame. And this is what America is not.”
Objections to Electoral College counts have been raised before, but never have such efforts gained as much partisan momentum or been embraced by the occupant of the Oval Office.
McConnell earlier decried the attempts by some of his GOP colleagues to cast doubt on the validity of the election won by Biden, warning it would put democracy in the U.S. into a “death spiral.”
“The voters, the courts and the states have all spoken,” McConnell said on the Senate floor. “They’ve all spoken. If we overrule them, it would damage our Republic forever.”
McConnell, who has been cautious in dealing with Trump over the past four years, said the president’s arguments have included “sweeping conspiracy theories” and that while he has supported Trump’s right to court challenges, they were rejected by courts including those overseen by “all-star judges” who Trump nominated.
Pence also defied the president, saying in a letter to Congress that he has no power to intervene.
“It is my considered judgment 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,” Pence said in the letter.
Congress is ultimately expected to certify the outcome that gave Biden 306 electoral votes, followed by his inauguration on Jan. 20.
Trump has encouraged the objections and the protests, calling McConnell and others the “Surrender Caucus” and repeating baseless claims that the election was rigged.
He also egged on his supporters at a protest in Washington just before Congress convened. In front of more than a thousand people gathered at a park south of the White House earlier on Wednesday, Trump said he wouldn’t concede his loss in the election, which he claims without evidence was tainted by fraud.
“We will never give up, we will never concede,” he told the crowd. “We won this election. We won it in a landslide.”
Later, he urged his supporters to stay peaceful and respect the police. But he also excoriated Pence for not trying to block the electoral count.
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