The riot-inciter in chief
President Donald Trump does not do clean breakups. Not with ex-wives, not with former loyal allies and not — as we saw in a shocking and shameful spectacle Wednesday — with the American democracy that rejected him.
A mob summoned to Washington and egged on by Trump, brainwashed by his delusional drumbeat that he was defrauded out of reelection, stormed inside the U.S. Capitol, overrunning outnumbered police and causing members of Congress to flee as they met for the final steps to affirming Joe Biden's election as the next president.
In a morning rally near the White House, Trump proclaimed to the crowd that "this election was stolen from you, from me, from the country" and falsely declared that he won "in a landslide." He complained that the three justices he put on the Supreme Court didn't take up his case and that most Senate Republicans spurned a bid to overturn the election. He called on his MAGA faithful to march on the Capitol and said he would walk with them. He did not, returning instead to the White House to watch the chaos he wrought on TV — scenes that resembled an attempted coup.
The pro-Trump mob, some with firearms, took over the Senate presiding officer’s chair that Vice President Mike Pence vacated during the evacuation of that chamber. One yelled, "Trump won that election." Another posed for photos in House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's office and took a piece of mail as a trophy. Lawmakers and staff members hid under tables, donned gas masks, hunkered in lockdowns, blocked doors with furniture and said prayers. A woman was shot dead by Capitol police firing at pro-Trump intruders who refused orders to stop, law enforcement officials told The Washington Post. Family members identified her as Ashli Babbit of San Diego. Three other people died at the Capitol in what police called "medical emergencies."
Staff members grabbed the boxes of Electoral College votes for safekeeping as the evacuation took place. The mob smashed windows, broke down doors, ransacked offices and went hunting for prey. Protesters could be heard chanting, "Where is Pence?" Pence earlier had rebuffed Trump's demand that he use powers he doesn't have to reject Biden electors.
Inside the White House, with the nation's legislative branch under siege by insurrectionists, Trump tweeted more grievance: "Mike Pence didn’t have the courage to do what should have been done … USA demands the truth!"
It took 2½ hours for Trump to respond to aides begging him to call for an end to the occupation; the president tweeted a video. Again reciting his fictions about rigged-election fraud, Trump said into the camera: "We have to have peace. So go home, we love you, you’re very special." The rest of it was so incendiary that Twitter and Facebook soon blocked the video and suspended the president's accounts. While Trump was silenced temporarily, security forces took back the Capitol, and lawmakers of the House and Senate returned at 8 p.m. to finish the job.
Democracy delayed but not denied
Pence, newly decoupled from Trump, ceremonially hammered the final nail into the coffin of Trump's election challenges. At 3:41 a.m. Thursday, the vice president announced the electoral vote count — 306 for President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris, 232 for Trump and Pence — allowed for a "sufficient declaration" of the winners.
It was Pence who spoke first when senators returned to their chamber Wednesday night after more than six hours of disruption. "Today was a dark day in the history of the United States Capitol," Pence said. He praised the resumption of proceedings, promising that "the world will again witness the resilience and strength of our democracy." Senators gave him a standing ovation.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell decried the "failed insurrection" by the Trump-inspired mob. "They tried to disrupt our democracy," he said. "They failed." Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer assailed Trump. "The president, who promoted conspiracy theories that motivated these thugs, the president, who exhorted them to come to our nation’s capital, egged them on," Schumer said.
Other Republicans forcefully condemned Trump. "We gather today due to a selfish man’s injured pride and the outrage of his supporters whom he has deliberately misinformed for the past two months," said Sen. Mitt Romney. "There’s no question the president formed the mob. … He lit the flame," said Rep. Liz Cheney.
The House and Senate returned to the business of hearing the futile election challenges promoted by GOP Sens. Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley and about 120 House Republicans, but support for the certification objections further eroded. Only two of six swing-state challenges put forward from the House side, Arizona and Pennsylvania, found a GOP senator willing to join. The pair were debated separately and were voted down overwhelmingly in both chambers.
Sens. Steve Daines of Montana, Mike Braun of Indiana, Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee and Kelly Loeffler of Georgia changed their minds about signing on to the objections, in light of the day's violence. "I cannot now in good conscience object to the certification of these electors," said Loeffler, who lost a runoff election Tuesday. "The violence, the lawlessness and siege of the halls of Congress are abhorrent and stand as a direct attack on the very institution my objection was intended to protect: the American democratic process."
Romney scolded those still pressing Trump's objections. "Those who choose to continue to support his dangerous gambit by objecting to the results of a legitimate, democratic election will forever be seen as being complicit in an unprecedented attack against our democracy," Romney said.
Concession, Trump style
Minutes after Congress adjourned, Trump issued a statement tweeted at 3:49 a.m. Thursday by his aide Dan Scavino, evidently because his own Twitter account was still blocked. The president's statement:
"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. I have always said we would continue our fight to ensure that only legal votes were counted. While this represents the end of the greatest first term in presidential history, it’s only the beginning of our fight to Make America Great Again!"
Et tu, Pence?
Trump was still speaking to the rally at the Ellipse near the White House when Pence put out a statement affirming he would not intervene as Trump wanted to thwart the electoral vote count. Trump seemed to know it was coming, even though he lied in a statement Tuesday night that he and the vice president saw eye to eye.
Pence, the president said, was "listening to stupid people" — meaning the ones who said what Trump wanted was unlawful.
In a tweet as his violent supporters were storming the Capitol, Trump tweeted: "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. USA demands the truth!"
"I’ve known Mike Pence forever," Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) told reporters Wednesday night. "I’ve never seen Pence as angry as he was today."
"I had a long conversation with him," said Inhofe. "He said, ‘After all the things I’ve done for [Trump].’ "
Is it 25th Amendment time?
CBS News reported Wednesday night that there are "whispers" among Cabinet members about invoking the 25th Amendment to remove Trump from office before his term ends in less than two weeks. It has not been formally presented to the vice president, but it has "moved beyond simple speculation" at the "highest levels."
The National Association of Manufacturers, the nation's largest manufacturing association, condemned the assault on the Capitol as "sedition" and urged Pence to "seriously consider working with the Cabinet to invoke the 25th Amendment to preserve democracy."
"The outgoing president incited violence in an attempt to retain power, and any elected leader defending him is violating their oath to the Constitution and rejecting democracy in favor of anarchy," a statement from NAM said. "Every second he retains the vast powers of the presidency is a threat to public order and national security."
The idea gathered some steam elsewhere on Wednesday night. House Ways and Means Chairman Richard Neal (D-Mass.) tweeted, "The 25th amendment should be invoked, and he should be removed from office." The Washington Post wrote in its editorial that "every second he retains the vast powers of the presidency is a threat to public order and national security."
Curiously, acting Defense Secretary Christopher Miller said he and Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Mark Milley consulted with Pence and House and Senate leaders during the afternoon on how to respond to the security breakdown at the Capitol, according to military.com. There was no mention of Trump.
Under the 25th Amendment to the Constitution, the vice president and a majority of Cabinet secretaries can declare Trump "unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office" in writing and remove him from office.
Janison: Cowards gonna coward
As if to prove himself the most arrogant, selfish and careless of politicians, Trump egged on followers to use the protest tactics of the powerless — all to endorse his pathetic attempt to grab power and deny what he is: a loser, writes Newsday's Dan Janison.
"Big protest in DC on January 6th. Be there, will be wild!" the president tweeted from his comfortable perch last month. From Day One, Trump has refused to act like a normal leader by taking any responsibility for this kind of bluster. To look strong, he incites others, always strutting behind those with the guns.
Mean lies can be expected from a president whose deceits about the coronavirus arguably contributed to the deaths of thousands of Americans. He incited people to flout public-health precautions. Clearly, he does not mind others dying or he'd have issued the proper cautions.
As always, Trump stayed in a safe place, the White House fortress. Personal risk, to Trump, has always been for the little people — for troops, activists and public servants he seems to consider suckers. Don’t expect to find his family instigators, Eric and Donald Jr., mixing it up with police guarding the barricades. The two men talk tough. Their role in life is to collect money, promote the family brand and, like dad, insult the intelligence of the people.
Biden: No fears for inauguration
Biden on Wednesday called the Trump mob's storming of the home of Congress an "unprecedented assault, unlike anything we've seen in modern times on the citadel of liberty, the Capitol itself."
Speaking from Wilmington, Delaware, where he has been preparing for his presidency, Biden said, "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."
Asked whether he was concerned about his swearing-in ceremony, which is to take place at the Capitol on Jan. 20, Biden said, "I am not concerned about my safety, security or the inauguration. The American people will have to stand up and stand up now. Enough is enough is enough." Watch Biden's remarks on video.
Long Islanders caught in mayhem
Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) was getting ready to speak on the House floor in favor of a challenge to the election when Trump supporters burst in and security personnel evacuated the chamber.
Rep. Thomas Suozzi (D-Glen Cove), said he heard a "pop, pop, pop" sound and soon saw U.S. Capitol police officials inside the chamber draw their guns. Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-St. Albans), the newly appointed chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, wrote on Twitter: "The world is watching as the greatest democracy braces against an attempted coup, stirred by its leader who'd rather watch the country burn than transition power."
The newest Long Island House member, Rep. Andrew Garbarino (R-Bayport), called the riot "un-American" and "insane" and the kind of thing that "happens in third-world countries." He blamed Trump supporters who misguidedly believe Congress could overturn the election results. "I’m still getting emails saying ‘stick with the President. We can still win.’ I say, what do you mean? We can’t win," Garbarino said.
Zeldin said, "This should never be the scene at the U.S. Capitol." But Zeldin said Wednesday night he would persist with his objection. For more, see Newsday's story by Laura Figueroa Hernandez and Tom Brune, with Yancey Roy.
Georgia vote will strengthen Biden's hand
Democrat Raphael Warnock defeated Republican Loeffler in one Georgia runoff election, and Democrat Jon Ossoff was called the winner Wednesday over GOP Sen. David Perdue in the other. That means Biden's party will have a working majority in the Senate as well as the House, expanding some opportunities to pass his agenda and get his nominees confirmed.
Harris will be the tiebreaker in the new 50-50 lineup after she is sworn in as vice president. The next majority leader will be New York's Schumer.
Trump’s false claims of voter fraud in the presidential race cast a shadow over the Georgia runoff elections, and Republicans feared he suppressed their own turnout from would-be voters. Trump came to Georgia for a Perdue-Loeffler rally Monday but focused on himself.
"Trump is the cause of this, lock, stock and barrel," one Republican strategist told Politico. "But when you’re relying on someone to win you a Senate race that also lost statewide eight weeks prior, you’re not in a position of strength."
Biden wants Garland for attorney general
Biden has selected Merrick Garland, a federal appeals court judge who in 2016 was snubbed by Republicans blocking his confirmation hearing for the Supreme Court, as his nominee for attorney general, The Associated Press and other news organizations reported.
Garland is an experienced judge who held senior positions at the Justice Department decades ago, including as a supervisor of the prosecution of the 1995 Oklahoma City terror bombing. The pick will force Senate Republicans to contend with the nomination of someone they spurned four years ago during President Barack Obama's final year in hopes of filling the late Antonin Scalia's high-court seat with a Republican's nominee.
Democratic control of the Senate will ease concern that Biden could have trouble getting a new judge confirmed to replace Garland on the appeals court.
More coronavirus news
The U.S. set a daily record for COVID-19 deaths Tuesday at 3,775. See a roundup of the latest regional pandemic developments by Newsday's reporting staff, written by Bart Jones. For a full list of Newsday's coronavirus stories, click here.
What else is happening:
- Rudy Giuliani, the Trump lawyer, sent a tweet calling on the Capitol rioters to "express your opinion peacefully," but offering the "patriots" encouragement too. "You are on the right side of the law and history," said Giuliani, who has relentlessly encouraged Trump and his fans to believe delusions about a stolen election. Speaking at the earlier rally, Giuliani urged: "Let's have trial by combat."
- Security reinforcements are belatedly pouring into Washington from neighboring states and as far away as New York, which sent 1,000 National Guard members. New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy tweeted that at the request of D.C. officials, he is sending state police "to facilitate the peaceful transition of power & protect our democracy," and will deploy his state's National Guard if needed.
- Stephanie Grisham, chief of staff for first lady Melania Trump and a former White House communications director and press secretary, submitted her resignation Wednesday afternoon, effective immediately, in the wake of the Capitol violence. Donald Trump's deputy national security adviser, Matt Pottinger, also resigned Wednesday afternoon.
- The breach of the Capitol was the first large-scale assault since the British attacked and set it afire in 1814 during the War of 1812, according to the U.S. Capitol Historical Society. The last attempted attack came on Sept. 11, 2001, when al-Qaida hijackers planning to crash a plane into the building were thwarted by courageous passengers, causing the plane to do down in a Pennsylvania field.
- Two frequent golf buddies of Trump from the Senate GOP broke with him. Rand Paul tweeted late Wednesday afternoon that he opposed the election challenge. "My oath to the Constitution doesn’t allow me to disobey the law. I cannot vote to overturn the verdict of the states," he said. Lindsey Graham said the next steps are to "finish the constitutional work of confirming Biden and Harris."
- Just-retired Long Island Rep. Peter King, who supported Trump, told Newsday's The Point that he was disappointed by the president's response: "There are no excuses … Don’t say the election was robbed. No, these people are criminals, they’re domestic terrorists. There should not be one word of praise or excuse given to them. To have your own people do this, it’s really shameful." The Point also interviewed some Long Island Trump fans from busloads that participated.
- Even after Trump sent his "love" to the Capitol rioters as his people, the far-right disinformation machine put out an alternative narrative, calling them "antifa thugs" disguised as Trump supporters.