Washington — Chaos erupted inside the U.S. Capitol as thousands of pro-Trump demonstrators charged the complex and eventually made their way into the Senate chamber, plunging Washington into crisis and halting the congressional count of Electoral College votes confirming President-elect Joe Biden’s victory.
Both the House and Senate recessed in response to the breach, and Vice President Mike Pence, who was in the Senate, was whisked away. Lawmakers and staff were ordered to seek shelter and remain away from doors and windows.
As protesters made their way inside the complex, senators and members of the press were evacuated from the Senate chamber, and armed officers inside the House chamber aimed firearms at protesters attempting to breach the barricaded doors.
The incredible scene unfolded after lawmakers gathered in a joint session to count the Electoral College votes and seal Biden’s victory in November’s election. Soon after the joint session began, GOP lawmakers objected to results from Arizona, a move that prompted each chamber to begin debating the objection separately.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell excoriated his fellow Republicans’ efforts to block state electors, saying that overturning the will of the voters would “damage our republic forever” in a blistering speech from the Senate floor. Protesters who had gathered outside made their way into the chamber not long after McConnell’s speech.
Mr. Trump had been urging Pence to reject the electoral votes from states he lost, but the vice president declined to do so, saying in a letter to congressional colleagues, “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.”
As the chaos unfolded inside the Capitol, the president refused to call on his supporters to end the siege, eventually urging them only to “remain peaceful.”
Trump calls for demonstrators to “remain peaceful” amid violent breach at Capitol
Mr. Trump took to Twitter to call for peace as swarms of his supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol and made their way inside, prompting law enforcement to evacuate lawmakers, staff and journalists from the House and Senate chambers.
“I am asking for everyone at the U.S. Capitol to remain peaceful. No violence! Remember, WE are the Party of Law & Order – respect the Law and our great men and women in Blue. Thank you!” he tweeted.
The president did not urge his supporters to leave the premises.
Mr. Trump’s tweet comes after his supporters breached several layers of security barriers, charged up the steps of the Capitol and pushed their way inside. Demonstrators made their way to the floor of the Senate, and images showed Capitol Police in the House chamber with their guns drawn and the doors to the floor barricaded.
Secret Service, Federal Protective Service being deployed to Capitol
Federal Protective Service and Secret Service agents are being deployed to the U.S. Capitol, Acting Deputy Homeland Security Secretary Ken Cuccinelli confirmed.
The presence of the U.S. Capitol Police was clearly insufficient to stop the storm of demonstrators.
D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser’s request for D.C. National Guard troops was approved earlier this week, but it’s unclear where they have been in the midst of the chaos.
D.C. attorney general urges Trump to call for end to violence
D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine issued a statement urging the president to tell his supporters to stand down and leave the Capitol. Mr. Trump thus far has not condemned the violence, or called on his supporters to disband, tweeting only that demonstrators should “remain peaceful.”
“We call on President Trump to immediately tell his supporters, who are trampling on the District of Columbia and have breached the U.S. Capitol, to cease and desist and return from whence they came in a peaceful manner,” Racine said in a statement. “The United States of America is the world’s greatest democracy, and that rests on a peaceful transition of power.”
“We urge President Trump to do what he has not yet done, but what he must do: order his supporters to leave the District of Columbia and fully embrace the transition of power to President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris,” Racine continued.
Racine said all D.C. residents “must remain at home,” and “under no circumstance should anyone travel downtown nor be in the vicinity of federal buildings.”
The curfew in D.C. goes into effect at 6 p.m.