US Congress certified President-elect Joe Biden’s election victory in the early on Thursday morning, hours after it was stormed, assaulted, and occupied by supporters incited by President Donald Trump’s false and baseless claims of poll fraud, in a shocking attack on democracy that has been described as an insurrection and was watched with horror around the world.
Vice-President Mike Pence, who presided over the joint session of congress to certify the election, declared Biden had won the electoral college at 3:41am (2.11pm IST), bringing down the curtain on his boss’s flagrant disregard of democratic norms. Trump, whose Facebook, Instagram and Twitter accounts were suspended, issued a statement shortly after through a White House social media account, saying, “Even though I totally disagree with the outcome of the election, and the facts bear me out, nevertheless there will be an orderly transition on January 20th.”
It took the outgoing president more than 60 days to concede defeat in the November 2020 presidential election, during which time he and his allies filed and lost more than 60 lawsuits, sought and lost many full and partial recounts, denied Biden’s team routine transition access, and, finally, incited a most shocking assault on American democracy, breaching the home of US Congress for the first time since 1812, when it was attacked by the British during a war.
Lawmakers returned to the session escorted by heavily armed security personnel from a mélange of agencies, some armed with long guns, late Wednesday evening to resume the largely ritualistic constitutional process to grant Biden’s victory one final affirmation, that had been suddenly interrupted by Trump’s marauding supporters who had forced their way into the Capitol, overpowering security personnel by their sheer numbers. They reached deep inside the building, forced lawmakers to shelter in place under desks and in rooms. Many of them broke furniture to use them as clubs to protect themselves against the rioters.
One woman was killed in clashes that broke out between the insurrectionists and security personnel, and three people died of medical emergencies on the Capitol grounds, several people were injured, including law enforcement personnel, and dozens were taken into custody.The rioters had been driven out of the building by late evening.But even though a nighttime curfew came into effect at 6pm, the mobs, though thinned down, continued to loiter menacingly around the complex, hurling invectives at police.
“To storm the Capitol, to smash windows, to occupy offices, and to threaten the safety of duly elected officials is not protest,” President-elect Biden said in remarks to the nation,as the horrifying assault unfolded on live TV coverage around the world. “It is insurrection. The world is watching — and like so many other Americans, I am shocked and saddened that our nation, so long a beacon of light, hope, and democracy has come to such a dark moment.” Former President George W Bush, a Republican, also decried the mob action as an “insurrection”, as did other leading Republicans such as Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell and Senator Mitt Romney, also a 2012 presidential nominee.
Calls began to be raised shortly for Trump to be impeached, even if there were just two more weeks left of his term, or be removed from office under the 25th Amendment of US Constitution, which empowers the federal cabinet to sideline the president finding him unfit to govern.Leading legal experts such as Lawrence Tribe, a Harvard law professor, told CNN that Trump had “engaged in inciting sedition”.
The world watched, and reacted, with horror. “Distressed to see news about rioting and violence in Washington DC. Orderly and peaceful transfer of power must continue. The democratic process cannot be allowed to be subverted through unlawful protests,” said Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
“Disgraceful scenes in US Congress. The United States stands for democracy around the world and it is now vital that there should be a peaceful and orderly transfer of power,” UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, a close Trump ally, wrote in a tweet.Similar statements of shock and outrage flowed from capitals of other US allies and partners.
The rioters had marched to the Capitol from a rally nearby where Trump railed against his election defeat, attributing it, once again without proof, to fraud and cheating. And then he called on them to march on the Capitol, promising to walk with them.“We’re going to walk down to the Capitol, and we’re going to cheer on our brave senators and congressmen and women,” Trump told his cheering supporters, referring to the certification process. “And we’re probably not going to be cheering, so much for some of them because you’re never going to take back our country with weakness, you have to show strength and you have to be strong.”
Trump was seething at the time. Pence had just told him, according to reports, that he will not overturn Biden’s election during the certification process. In a statement that was issued just as he reached Congress, the Vice-President said: “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.” Trump still kept calling for Pence to come through, and then he sent off the mob, whipped up and angry by false claims that he was robbed of his re-election.But he did not accompany them, as he promised. He went back to the White House to watch the mayhem he unleashed on TV. The President seemed pleased by the what he saw, reportedly, and ignored repeated pleas by aides to condemn the assault and called off his supporters.
Men and women carrying Trump’s campaign flags, a flag of the confederacy — which fought to continue slavery but lost — and the national flag, roamed the corridors of the Capitol at will, entering rooms and chambers not open to outsiders.They made it to the well of the senate and one of them posed for pictures siting in the senate President’s seat, which was occupied by Vice-President Pence just a while ago. Another man went into Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office, sat in her chair and posed for pictures with his feet up on her desk. One of them left a note for her: “We will not back down”.
US Congress had just started a joint session at the time to certify Biden’s election victory. And the two chambers had broken up to debate, separately under the rules, the first of the several objections Trump’s allies in Congress had planned to raise against the certification.They were soon sheltering in place as rioters took over the capital, forcing back Capitol police, some of whom, curiously, posed for selfies with the rioters.The process resumed later in the evening after the complex had been cleared of Trump’s supporters.
“To those who wreaked havoc in our Capitol today, you did not win. Violence never wins. Freedom wins. And this is still the people’s house,” Pence said resuming Congress’s joint session. Though shocked and outraged, leaders of both parties resolved to put forth a joint front to demonstrate they would not be intimidated and resumed the certification process later in the evening. Many Republican dropped their plans to object to the certification, and others just plain said it was time to move on.
As news of the insurrection spread, calls were issued for Trump, as the instigator and inciter, to intervene and call off his supporters. He ignored them for a while, and then responded with an insipid tweet saying: “Stay peaceful”. He posted another weak tweet, and then, after a public appeal from Biden to “step up”, Trump posted a long message with a video, in which he reiterated his claim that the election was stolen, appealed to the rioters to go home calling them patriots and saying he loved them.Several White House aides resigned in frustration.