Not since the War of 1812, when British forces set fire to the Capitol, had the halls of power in Washington been overtaken by violent intruders as they were yesterday.
The crowd of hundreds who broke windows and burst their way through the front doors were only the front lines of a mob of thousands, which President Trump himself had encouraged that morning to march en masse to the Capitol, with the goal of disrupting Congress’s acceptance of the Electoral College vote. “You will never take back our country with weakness,” he said.
The president’s supporters forced their way past law enforcement officers, entered the Senate chambers and put their feet up, quite literally, on the House speaker’s desk. Then they eventually filed out, largely without being detained by the police.
A person with knowledge of the events told Maggie Haberman that Trump had resisted sending in the National Guard even after the Capitol had been stormed and that it had taken intervention from senior White House officials to get those forces ordered into action.
Badly outnumbered, the Capitol Police skirmished with rioters who were overrunning the Capitol but didn’t deploy the kinds of aggressive tactics that police forces in cities around the country had used against protesters throughout 2020. Some videos showed officers standing passively by, and the failure of law enforcement personnel to keep the Capitol safe seems likely to be a major point of discussion in the coming days.
One woman died after being shot by a police officer inside the Capitol, officials said. Three other people died in what the authorities called medical emergencies. Numerous police officers were reported to have been injured during the fracas yesterday.
It was all a bridge too far even for some of the staunchest allies of Trump, who released a one-minute video expressing “love” for his supporters at the Capitol and only equivocally asking them to back off. Once the Capitol was re-secured and debate resumed hours after the mayhem began, much — but certainly not all — of the Republican resistance to accepting the election results withered away, and Congress moved forward with certifying Joe Biden’s victory.
Around 3:40 a.m. Eastern time, Vice President Mike Pence made it official, affirming Biden as the nation’s 46th president. In a striking break with the president, he opened the proceedings hours earlier with a firm rebuke to the rioters, telling them, “You did not win.” He ended the brief but forceful speech with an exhortation — “Let’s get back to work” — and drew an ovation from the Senate.
There may have been a whiff of presidential auditioning here — whether for 2024 or 24 hours from now. A statement from Trump, issued via surrogates after Twitter and Facebook locked his accounts, promised an orderly transition, but a growing number of civic and business leaders called on members of his cabinet to invoke the 25th Amendment and declare him unfit for office.
That prospect, which appears to remain unlikely, would place Pence in the Oval Office for the final days of the administration.
Some prominent Democrats have also called for Trump to be re-impeached immediately, calling it the best way to ensure his removal from office and avoid any further violence before Biden enters the White House.
Representative Ilhan Omar of Minnesota tweeted yesterday that she would draw up articles of impeachment. “We can’t allow him to remain in office, it’s a matter of preserving our Republic and we need to fulfill our oath,” she wrote. A number of other House Democrats expressed their support for the move.
And Representative Hakeem Jeffries, the chair of the House Democratic caucus, said in an interview with ABC News that “all options should be on the table” with regard to removing the president from office.
In remarks yesterday afternoon from Wilmington, Del., Biden denounced the violence at the Capitol and called on Trump to condemn it.
“This is not dissent,” he said. “It borders on sedition.” Calling it an “insurrection,” Biden demanded that Trump go on national television to address what happened, but his calls fell on deaf ears.
The end of the Trump presidency will also be the end of Republican control in the Senate, after Jon Ossoff, one of the Democratic challengers in Georgia, was declared the winner yesterday in his runoff election against David Perdue.
Ossoff will join the Rev. Raphael Warnock, who defeated the state’s other Republican incumbent, Senator Kelly Loeffler, as the first Democratic senators from Georgia in 16 years.
They will shift the balance of power significantly in Washington from the right wing toward the center, as Democrats will hold razor-thin control over both houses of Congress.
Democrats in the Senate will now be in a position to confirm Biden’s appointments, including Merrick Garland, whom Biden will pick as attorney general, people close to his decision said yesterday. For Garland, it may feel like poetic justice if his nomination slides past Mitch McConnell, who denied Garland a place on the Supreme Court in 2016 but as the Republican leader will no longer control the Senate’s majority.
If Trump has driven the Republican Party off a political cliff, most of the momentum is still inside the car: Well over half of rank-and-file Republican voters still think that the election was stolen from him.
While the Senate’s Republican caucus mostly came together to allow Biden’s win to be confirmed, some senators logged official objections in the record. And on the House side, well over 100 legislators voted in support of objections that the Democratic majority overruled.
While conservative news outlets like Fox News and Newsmax were heavily critical of the rioting at the Capitol, it remains hard to imagine that the coalition Trump has assembled will easily disintegrate or meaningfully change course — even after such a traumatic event.
The fact remains that a violent protest was able to delay the adoption of the election’s legitimate results, and a president who still holds his followers in thrall garnered significant support in refusing to give up power.