A mob of protesters supporting outgoing U.S. President Donald Trump breached security perimeters at the Capitol on Wednesday after skirmishes with police, forcing an unprecedented lockdown during a joint session of Congress and prompting the evacuation of Vice President Mike Pence, who was slated to oversee the final certification of President-elect Joe Biden’s electoral victory.
Following violent clashes with police, rioters tore down barriers at the Capitol steps, and some swept past police to enter the Capitol building. Capitol police swiftly began locking down the complex, informing lawmakers and staffers of an “external security threat” and forcing both chambers into recess. Lawmakers were told to lie on the floor and unwrap their gas masks as police battled the assailants.
The president’s supporters made their way into the House and Senate chambers in an extraordinary breach of security. Other protesters climbed scaffolding on Senate office buildings to the second floor, near where Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s office is located.
“This violence is unacceptable and needs to be met with the full force of the law,” Republican Sen. Tom Cotton tweeted. “God bless the Capitol Police who are keeping us safe.”
Republican Rep. Adam Kinzinger said simply: “This is a coup attempt.”
Several congressional aides told Foreign Policy they were initially instructed to shelter in place, and they described an atmosphere of fear and shock. Just before 3 p.m., reports emerged from Capitol Hill that members of Congress, staff, and journalists working in the House and Senate chambers were being evacuated.
The clashes came immediately after Trump addressed crowds of supporters outside the White House to reiterate baseless claims of election fraud. “We will never give up. We will never concede. It doesn’t happen. You don’t concede when there’s theft involved,” the president told his supporters.
The Washington Post reported on Wednesday afternoon that Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi had requested National Guard troops to clear and secure the Capitol, following a request from Capitol Police. The D.C. National Guard did not immediately respond to Foreign Policy’s request for comment.
Trump later tweeted that Capitol Police and law enforcement “are truly on the side of our Country. Stay peaceful!” But the president did not explicitly condemn the violence or breach of Congress by his supporters. Mick Mulvaney, Trump’s former acting chief of staff, called the president’s words “not enough” and urged him to tell the violent protesters to go home.
As the scene unfolded on Capitol Hill, with scores of rioters passing freely through the statuary hall that divides the House and Senate chambers, Trump roundly tweeted condemnations of Pence, who acknowledged that he did not have the authority to challenge the Electoral College result on Wednesday.
“Mike Pence didn’t have the courage to do what should have been done to protect our Country and our Constitution, giving States a chance to certify a corrected set of facts, not the fraudulent or inaccurate ones which they were asked to previously certify,” Trump tweeted, continuing to make baseless allegations of election fraud. “USA demands the truth!”
In a midday letter that coincided with Trump’s speech, Pence noted that the notion a vice president could overturn election results was antithetical to the Constitution. “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,” Pence wrote in a letter to Congress.
Just minutes before the security breach, McConnell denounced efforts by some of his Republican counterparts to protest the results.
“The voters, the courts and the states have all spoken. They’ve all spoken. If we overrule them it would damage our republic forever,” McConnell said. “The United States Senate has a higher calling than an endless spiral of partisan vengeance.”
In response to the violent protests, Washington, D.C., Mayor Muriel Bowser announced a citywide curfew from 6 p.m. to 7 a.m. Thursday.
On Tuesday evening, Trump supporters clashed with each other and police at Black Lives Matter Plaza near the White House. At least six people were arrested on charges including assaulting a police officer and weapons violations.
Pro-Trump Demonstrators Breach Capitol, Pence Evacuated, Election Certification Paused The British Journal Editors and Wire Services/ Foreign Policy.