A joint session of Congress certified Joe Biden and Kamala Harris as the winners of the 2020 election early on Thursday, the climax to a day of unrest in which supporters of Donald Trump stormed the Capitol in a violent siege that ultimately failed to stop the proceedings.
As Vice President Mike Pence presided over the electoral vote count from each state, the victory of Biden and Harris was sealed at 3:32 AM ET when Vermont’s votes put them over the 270 vote threshold.
Several minutes later, after the vote count was finished, members clapped after Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) announced Biden and Harris as the winners. Pence then confirmed his own defeat on the ticket with Trump as he announced the final total, 306-232.
There was little doubt of the outcome of the vote, but the unprecedented mob takeover of the Capitol complex, captured in searing images that ran all day on broadcast and cable, left lawmakers and much of the country rattled. Democrats and a number of high profile Republicans, including Mitt Romney and former president George W. Bush, called it an insurrection and pinned the blame on Trump for inciting the protesters, while others characterized it as a failed coup attempt and an act of domestic terrorism.
Both chambers overwhelmingly rejected challenges to the electoral votes of Arizona and Pennsylvania. The counting of the presidential ballots is typically a formality, sometimes taking less than a half an hour, but more than a dozen Senate Republicans and dozens of GOP House lawmakers sided with Trump in his efforts to raise doubts and even overturn the results.
The counting of the votes started at 1 PM ET, but was halted an hour later after protesters breached security gates and began wandering the halls of the Capitol. Some reached the Senate floor, while Capitol Police had an armed standoff with demonstrators trying to burst through House doors. It took hours before authorities were able to control the situation, but Congress reconvened about 8 PM ET, with leaders vowing to finish the count.
Even though the episode, a dark chapter in recent American history, is over, it has left lawmakers deeply shaken and with divisions lingering. There was one incident, in which two House members nearly came to blows, according to reporters in the chamber, as Rep. Conor Lamb (D-PA) spoke and said that the siege was “inspired by lies, the same lies that you are hearing in this room tonight.” PBS NewsHour correspondent Lisa Desjardins wrote on Twitter that “members from both parties moved together as if getting ready for a fist fight.”
Media figures from the right, like Sean Hannity and Laura Ingraham, condemned the violence, but otherwise devoted a chunk of their Fox News programs with a mixture of grievance and innuendo. Each raised questions of whether outside groups, including those connected to antifa, infiltrated the pro-Trump groups.
On CNN, Chris Cuomo and Don Lemon talked of their disagreement with an editorial decision by the network not to show a video taken of the shooting of one of the demonstrators, a woman who died later of her wounds. She was shot by a member of Capitol Police, and the incident is under investigation, according to D.C.’s police chief Robert Contee. Authorities said that more than a dozen officers were injured.
Trump had no immediate reaction to the vote, as he has been temporarily banned from posting on Twitter. Earlier, as the siege was taking place at the Capitol, he lashed out at Pence. Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK) told Tulsa World that he spoke with Pence on Wednesday and “I’ve never seen Pence as angry as he was today.”
The damage to the Capitol was extensive, with reporters posting video of ransacked Senate offices, broken windows and overturned furniture. One rioter left a message, “Murder the Media” on a wall, while demonstrators outside were shown destroying media equipment and chanting “CNN sucks.”
The ransacked office of the Senate Parliamentarian: pic.twitter.com/E7PsSgoAEX
— Ali Zaslav (@alizaslav) January 7, 2021
Questions linger on what went wrong with Capitol Police, the lead agency in charge of securing the complex, who found themselves overwhelmed as demonstrators stormed through barricades. The rally had been talked up for weeks on social media, even by Trump, and at his rally at the Ellipse, he urged angry supporters to march to the Capitol. BuzzFeed reported that groups had been making threats to storm the Capitol for weeks.
A number of comparisons were made to the heavy, militaristic presence surrounding the area around the White House during last summer’s Black Lives Matter protests and the lighter grouping of officers around the Capitol.
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