The U.S. Capitol is secure once more, hours after supporters of President Donald Trump breached the historic building.
The siege, which occurred as lawmakers were beginning to certify Electoral College results showing Joe Biden won the Nov. 3 election, had plunged the capital into chaos, with TV anchors likening videos of surging crowds and broken windows to those more commonly seen in authoritarian and third-world countries. It occurred not long after Trump, convinced voter fraud caused his loss to Biden, urged supporters at a rally in D.C. to oppose the ceremonial counting of the electoral votes.
Though the ceremonial count, and associated protests by dozens of Republican lawmakers, were interrupted for hours, in a letter to colleagues House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said congressional leaders had decided to resume the joint session Wednesday night. They aim to do so once the Capitol is cleared for use, she said, after consultation with top lawmakers, the Pentagon, the Justice Department and Vice President Mike Pence.
By some reports, including one from the Washington Post, the surge into the Capitol led to use of tear gas, gunfire, and the death of one woman from gunshot wounds to the chest. National Guard and state troopers from Virginia have been called up, among others, to aid in restoring order.
The woman was a “civilian” and officers are investigating, said Chief Robert J. Contee of the Metropolitan Police Department. She’d been pronounced dead at a local hospital, but officials had no further details on who shot her or why.
There was much more detail, much of it startling, about the start of the siege.
Shortly after 1 p.m. ET Wednesday hundreds of pro-Trump protesters pushed through barriers set up along the perimeter of the Capitol, bumping up against officers in full riot gear, some calling the officers "traitors" for doing their jobs, CNN said.
About 90 minutes later, police said demonstrators got into the building and the doors to the House and Senate were being locked.
The House floor was evacuated by police. That included Vice President-elect Kamala Harris, as well as Vice President Pence, who was present to preside over the vote count. Pelosi, regularly a critic of the president, was safely evacuated as well, a staffer said.
“I thought we’d have to fight our way out,” Rep. Jason Crow, Democrat of Colorado, told The New Yok Times. Crow, a former Army Ranger who served in Iraq, said he moved other members away from the barricaded door in the gallery, helped them don gas masks and remove their identifying lapel pins, and brandished a pen, his sole weapon at the time.
An armed standoff ensued. CNN said multiple officers have been injured with at least one transported to the hospital.
Smoke grenades were used on the Senate side of the Capitol.
Police seized five guns and arrested at least 13 people during the violent protests, Chief Contee of the Metro Police told the Times.
Sen. Jeff Merkley tweeted tthat the electoral vote documents had successfully been removed from the scene before demonstrators could set them ablaze.
With about 30 minutes to go before Washington, DC's 6 p.m. ET curfew, Washington police amassed in a long line to push the mob back from the Capitol grounds.
Condemnation of the demonstrators, of of Trump, who was accused of inciting them to action, came swiftly, with Sen. Mitt Romney calling the entire affair an insurrection, and Rep. Ilhan Omar tweeting that she was going to introduce articles of impeachment against the president.
Biden, in Wilmington, Delaware, and preparing to be sworn in as president on Jan. 20, said the rioting was an ‘unprecedented assault” on democracy. He urged Trump to immediately go on national TV to urge an end to the siege.
"This is not dissent, it's disorder. It's chaos. It borders on sedition, and it must end now. I call on this mob to pull back and allow the work of democracy to go forward," Biden said. The president-elect urged Trump to go on TV and “fulfill his oath and defend the Constitution.”
Trump has stopped short of an open condemnation of the assault. In an evening tweet, he had this to say: “These are the things and events that happen when a sacred landslide election victory is so unceremoniously & viciously stripped away from great patriots who have been badly & unfairly treated for so long.
He exhorted his followers to “Go home with love & in peace. Remember this day forever!”
In what Axios characterized as Twitter’s strongest action to date, it pulled several tweets from the president down. In them, he repeated claims of voter fraud while his supporters stormed the Capitol building.
CNN said that in addition to the other chaos, at least two real explosives were rendered safe by law enforcement personnel. One device was reportedly at the offices of the Republican National Committee, and the other on the grounds of the Capitol complex.
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