Congress to Resume Electoral Vote Tally Once Capitol Secure
(Bloomberg) -- Hours after a pro-Trump mob stormed the U.S. Capitol, members of the House and Senate were preparing to resume a politically charged debate over the legitimacy of the presidential election that had helped stoke the violence.
The chaos appeared to take some of the steam out of the effort by a group of Republicans in the House and Senate to challenge the electoral vote counts in several states where Joe Biden defeated President Donald Trump in November.
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.”
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in a letter to members that the House would resume as early as Wednesday night once the Capitol was declared safe.
“We always knew this responsibility would take us into the night,” Pelosi said in the letter. “The night may still be long but we are hopeful for a shorter agenda, but our purpose will be accomplished.”
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell urged Senators to return to their work in a demonstration of strength in reaction to the demonstrations, a person familiar with the matter said.
Congress was in the middle of arguing over objections to the electoral vote count from Arizona, an effort encouraged by Trump, when lawmakers suddenly shut down proceedings and were hustled out of the House and Senate chambers by security as protesters surged into the Capitol.
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 proceedings should resume without objections.
The GOP lawmakers involved in the objections had been expected to challenge electoral votes from at least three states, forcing up to two hours of debate on each followed by separate votes in the House and Senate.
But it wasn’t clear after the violence at the Capitol whether the effort would continue. Several of the senators involved, including Ted Cruz of Texas and Josh Hawley of Missouri, were seen meeting before the session resumed.
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.”
Republican Senator Rand Paul told reporters he expected all the other objections would be condensed in the single challenge. “There’s going to be probably 30 or 40 more minutes of debate, and one vote,” he said.
Republican Representative Michael 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 out 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 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.
Vice President Mike Pence, who is presiding over the joint session, 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.
Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer, speaking in the Senate after McConnell, said the outcome of the proceedings was clear and that the effort by Republicans to reverse the election was an embarrassment to them, their party and the country.
He said they risk damaging “our great and grand democracy.” The peaceful transfer of power in the U.S., he said, is extolled by second-graders “but not by some here.”
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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