New York: Fighting off the mob onslaught on democracy, the US Congress on Thursday confirmed the election of Joe Biden as President and Kamala Harris as Vice President officially, bringing to a close the tumultuous challenges to their election from President Donald Trump and his supporters.
Isolated even in his party except for diehard supporters, Trump now offered a peaceful transition.
“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,” he said in a statement.
The joint session of the Senate and the House of Representatives put its seal on the 306 electoral college votes for Biden and Harris after going through the constitutional formality of tallying the votes.
The process was horrifyingly interrupted by an invasion of the Capitol — the domed building housing Congress — by a violent mob of Trump’s supporters, leaving a woman killed by gunfire inside.
The world watched aghast as scenes of mobs rushing in to the Capitol, scaling the walls, and taking over the Senate chamber played on TV.
Trump refused to accept the verdict of the electoral college, which gave him only 232 votes, and claimed that widespread fraud robbed him of victory, even after more than 50 cases by him and his supporters were thrown out by courts.
Republican Party’s leader in the Senate, Mitch McConnell warned that “our democracy would enter a death spiral” if elections were to be upended by rumours.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi, currently the highest-ranking Democrat, warned: “To those who engaged in the gleeful desecration of this, our temple of democracy — American democracy — justice will be done.”
Before Congress met for its joint session, Trump spoke to a rally of his supporters declaring he would never concede defeat to Biden after a “stolen election”.
And then he exhorted them: “After this, we’re going to walk down there (to the Capitol)… and we are going to cheer on our brave senators and congressmen and women (who object to Biden’s election)”.
Thousands shouting “Trump” and “USA, USA” marched to the Capitol, launching their assault after joint session adjourned following objections against Arizona’s electoral college votes and the Senate and the House began to meet separately to consider the issue.
They overwhelmed the police that was prepared for terrorist attacks but not a mob invasion and stormed the Capitol, crashing into the Senate, sending Vice President Mike Pence and others scrambling to a secure area.
The Democratic Party’s leader in the Senate, Chuck Schumer, held Trump personally responsible for the for the violence.
He said the “mob was, in good part, President Trump’s doing, incited by his words, his lies”.
A move to impeach him, 13 days before his term ends, has come up. Representative Pramila Jayapal called for his impeachment and Representative Ilhan Omar prepared the documents for it, tweeting: “We can’t allow him to remain in office, it’s a matter of preserving our republic.”
Should the move get the approval of the Democratic Party leadership, it will go through Congress as the Democrats now control both the House and Senate.
Meanwhile, talk surfaced of invoking Article 25 of the Constitution to remove him from office. Under the article, a majority of the cabinet and the Vice President can remove the president if they consider him incapable of fulfilling the responsibilities — in this case, mental instability.
Representative Charlie Crist tweeted: “The 25th Amendment allows for the removal of a President. It’s time to remove the President.”
Describing his experience during the siege, Democratic Representative Raja Krishnamoorthi tweeted: “I’m sheltering safely on the Capitol grounds as we’re witnessing the current acts of mob destruction and violence which followed the President’s urging and his refusal to accept the result of our fair democratic election even as the courts and senior Republican leaders have.”
Jayapal was trapped in the House gallery and she recounted on CBS TV how she and a few colleagues could not leave the area while they heard shouts and gunshots outside. On the House floor, she said that she saw Pelosi being taken out and the security barricading the doors from outside.
Officials said that a 35-woman protester was killed when Capitol police opened fire and three protesters died of medical causes during the attack on the Capitol.
Biden demanded that Trump go on national television to ask his supporters to end the siege and withdraw from the Capitol. “President Trump, step up,” he said.
Shortly afterwards, Trump put out a video tweet asking his supporters to go home and saying that they would play in to the hands of his opponents.
He tweeted: “I am asking for everyone at the US 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!”
Twitter suspended his account for 12 hours because of incendiary content mixed in with the tweet.
Pence called in the National Guard to clear out the Capitol.
Joined by a Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) SWAT team, they used flash grenades, smoke bombs and tear gas to clear out the Capitol.
McConnell said defiantly: “We have never been deterred before, we’ll be not deterred today. They tried to disrupt our democracy. They failed.”
“We will not be not kept out of this chamber by thugs, mobs, or threats,” he said.
After the chambers were quickly cleaned and swept for explosives, the House and the Senate resumed their discussion of the objection to Arizona’s electoral votes and threw them out.
The joint session resumed and objections to the electoral votes from three states failed because no one from the Senate would back them.
But an objection to Pennsylvania’s electoral votes was backed by one Senator, Josh Hawley, and the House and Senate met separately to consider them. The Senate quickly disposed of it, while the discussion lingered on for about two hours in the House before being voted.
When the joint session resumed, Congress quickly approved the tallies — the objections having failed — giving the seal of approval to Biden and Harris taking over in 13 days.
And the joint session ended with a prayer by a Christian priest.
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