House, Senate reject Arizona vote challenge after riot at U.S. Capitol

Some GOP members switch on issue after violent breach; Sen. Josh Hawley remains committed

A joint session of the U.S. House and Senate rejected the first challenge to the Electoral College results in Arizona late Wednesday after some Republican lawmakers abandoned the issue in the wake of the violent security breach at the U.S. Capitol by thousands of Trump supporters that forced members to evacuate.

The 93-6 Senate vote came down around 10 p.m. Wednesday, and the House downed the measure 121-303 shortly after 11 p.m., clearing the way for the electoral vote count to continue state-by-state until Joe Biden is certified the winner.

Shortly before midnight, the objection in Georgia was put aside because initial support for the measure fell through in light of the day’s events. The moment was met with applause throughout the chamber, and there was some speculation on whether members would entertain the rest of the planned objections because of the fading support. The objection in the state of Michigan was also tabled as another senator withdrew support.

The next objection was expected to be taken up in Pennsylvania, which if successful, would lead to two additional hours of debate.

Despite the earlier delays, members were reportedly motivated to finish the procedural count in the same session and were still seated as the clock struck midnight Thursday.

Notably, more than half of House Republicans voted to uphold the first objection in Arizona.

Six Republicans voted against the Arizona objection in the U.S. Senate, where a wider list of state vote challenges were first lodged by Sen. Josh Hawley a week ago.

In earlier comments on the chamber floor, Sen. Lindsey Graham said a commission to examine the 2020 election is not a proper next step and affirmed that Joe Biden is the “legitimate president of the United States.”

Graham, a South Carolina Republican and longtime ally of President Donald Trump, called it a “uniquely bad idea to delay this election,” referencing the commission idea proposed by his fellow South Carolina Republican, U.S. Sen. Tim Scott.

Graham said, “Count me out. Enough is enough.”

Both the House and Senate reconvened around 8 p.m., hours after thousands of Trump supporters stormed the Capitol whose police force was unprepared to handle the overwhelming confrontation.

Four people died, including one who was shot by a U.S. Park Police officer in the Capitol and three others who succumbed after health-related emergencies. There were 52 arrests, reports said.

Hours later, after retaking the Senate floor, Vice President Mike Pence announced that the Capitol was finally secure.

“Today, a shameful assault was made on our democracy. It was anointed at the highest level of government,” Speaker Nancy Pelosi wrote to her members in a note telling them the Senate would reconvene at 8 p.m., Politico reported. “It cannot, however, deter us from our responsibility to validate the election of Joe Biden.”

Vice President Mike Pence spoke from the Senate floor at lawmakers reconvened.

“Today was a dark day in the history of the United States Capitol. But thanks to the swift efforts of U.S. Capitol Police, federal, state, and local law enforcement, the violence was quelled,” he said. “The Capitol is secured, and the people’s work continues. We condemn the violence that took place here in the strongest possible terms. We grieve the loss of life in these hallowed halls, as well as the injuries suffered by those who defended our Capitol today. And we will always be grateful to the men and women who stayed at their posts to defend this historic place.

“To those who wreaked havoc in our Capitol today, you did not win. Violence never wins. Freedom wins, and this is still the people’s house,” he continued. “And as we reconvene in this chamber, the world will again witness the resilience and strength of our democracy. For even in the wake of unprecedented violence and vandalism at this Capitol, the elected representatives of the people of the United States have assembled again, on the very same day, to support and defend the Constitution of the United States.

“Let’s get back to work,” Pence said to applause.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said, “the United States Senate will not be intimidated.”

“We will not be kept out of this chamber by thugs, mobs, or threats,” he said. “We will not bow to lawlessness or intimidation. We are back at our posts. We will discharge our duty under the Constitution and for our nation, and we are going to do it tonight.”

McConnell condemned the violence but said, “the United States and the United States Congress have faced down much greater threats than the unhinged crowd we saw today.”

Sen. Josh Hawley

After the members reconvened, Missouri Republican Josh Hawley, who was the first senator to call for the objection of the Electoral College results, pushed ahead with his intention to file an appeal objecting to Pennsylvania’s results.

While Hawley condemned the storming of the U.S. Capitol, saying “violence is not how you achieve change,” he stood by his initial calls to object to Joe Biden’s victory due to unsubstantiated allegations of voter fraud, and added he would not back down.

“For those who say this is just a formality, I can’t say I agree,” Hawley said on the chamber floor late Wednesday.

“I hope this body will not miss the opportunity to take affirmative action to address the concerns of so millions of Americans. To say to millions of Americans tonight that violence is never warranted. That violence will not be tolerated. That those who engaged it in will be prosecuted but this body will act to address the concerns of Americans across the country,” Hawley said.

“What we are doing tonight is actually very important. This is the lawful place where those objections and concerns should be heard. We do need an investigation into irregularities, fraud. We do need a way forward together. We need election security reforms.”

President Trump and his personal attorney Rudy Giuliani were reportedly urging Senators to proceed with the remaining objections to the Electoral College certification.

While the Senate resumed, Ed O’Keefe with CBS News tweeted that CBS News’ Senior Foreign Affairs Correspondent Margaret Brennan reported that “actual members of Trump’s cabinet” are considering invoking the 25th Amendment and removing President Trump.

Earlier, The Associated Press reported a woman who was shot inside the U.S. Capitol after the violent storming of the building has died

The AP cited two officials familiar with the matter who spoke to The Associated Press on Wednesday on condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to speak publicly.

The Metropolitan Police Department said it was taking the lead on the shooting investigation. Police did not immediately provide details about the circumstances of the shooting.

A renewed security alert was issued at the Capitol due to a security threat at about 6:50 p.m., according to reporter Scott MacFarlane.

MacFarlane also reported that, according to multiple federal officials, the US Department of Homeland Security set up a “virtual situation room” to monitor the rioting.

Twitter announced it has locked President Donald Trump’s account for 12 hours, and it will be unlocked only if the tweets that violated its civic integrity policy are removed.

Twitter said future violations of its rules by the president would result in permanent suspension of his account.

After the riots unfolded, more than 1,100 National Guard members were deployed. The New York Times reported it was Vice President Mike Pence, not Trump, who approved the order to deploy the National Guard, according to defense and administration officials.

It is not clear why Trump did not give the order, the Times reported. An unnamed person familiar with the events said Trump initially resisted requests to send in the National Guard.

Earlier, Trump called for guards to be mobilized at the tumultuous scene, which involved a mob of thousands storming the U.S. Capitol. He later recorded a message stating that he had “love” for his supporters but that they needed to “go home now.” His video was posted to his Twitter page, but Twitter has now blocked all engagement with the president’s page, which prohibits shares, likes and comments on his posts.

“You have to go home now. We have to have peace. ... We have to respect our great people in law and order,” Trump said in the recorded video. “We don’t want anybody hurt.”

Twitter, Facebook and YouTube have all removed the video.

“This is an emergency situation and we are taking appropriate emergency measures, including removing President Trump’s video,” Facebook Integrity Chief Guy Rosen said in a tweet. “We removed it because on balance we believe it contributes to rather than diminishes the risk of ongoing violence.”

Facebook said Trump will “lose the ability to post on the platform” during a 24-hour feature block from the platform.

A spokesperson for YouTube said the video was removed because it violated its policies against content alleging widespread voter fraud during the 2020 elections. It said the video would be allowed to be reposted if done so in an educational context.

Federal protective services were being called into action in the wake of the sometimes-violent mob that disrupted what is normally a mundane, routine part of American democracy: congressional certification of the Electoral College vote.

Hours after the mayhem began, the Capitol’s sergeant of arms told news media that the building was secure after the melee that reportedly involved rioters rifling through files, scaling the building and causing destruction in the legislative chambers. Despite the rioting and commotion, Sen. Jeff Merkley said Wednesday evening that the Electoral College ballots were rescued from the Senate floor prior to the mob entering the building.

The breach forced a delay in the constitutional process to affirm Democrat Joe Biden’s victory in the November election. Earlier in the day, Trump held a rally with his supporters on the National Mall, decrying his November loss as the product of election fraud and malpractice.

One person was shot inside the Capitol, according to an anonymous source quoted by The Associated Press. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy also told Fox News one person had been shot. One explosive device was uncovered near the Capitol amid the violent occupation of the building by the president’s supporters. A spokesperson for the D.C. Fire and EMS told NBC News that there were multiple injuries sustained as a result of the protests.

By 5 p.m. Wednesday, other pro-Trump demonstrators began gathering at statehouses in Minnesota, Georgia and Oklahoma. Hundreds of mostly unmasked people gathered outside those Capitols on Wednesday with Trump flags and “Stop the Steal” signs. In Georgia and Oklahoma, some demonstrators carried guns.

New Mexico state police evacuated staff from a statehouse building that includes the governor’s and secretary of state’s offices as a precaution shortly after hundreds of flag-waving supporters arrived in a vehicle caravan and on horseback. A spokesperson for the governor´s office says there was no indication of threats at the statehouse.

Biden briefly made remarks about 4 p.m. denouncing the violence, remarking that “our democracy is under unprecedented assault.”

“Let me be very clear: The scenes of chaos at the Capitol do not represent who we are. What we are seeing is a small number of extremists dedicated to lawlessness. This is not dissent, it’s disorder. It borders on sedition, and it must end. Now.”

Vice President Mike Pence pressed rioters to leave the Capitol immediately, pushing a step further than Trump’s call to “remain peaceful.”

In a tweet Wednesday afternoon, Pence said, “This attack on our Capitol will not be tolerated and those involved will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”

On her Twitter account, U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minnesota, announced plans to draw up Articles of Impeachment against the president.

“We can’t allow him to remain in office, it’s a matter of preserving our Republic and we need to fulfill our oath.”

Sen. Amy Klobuchar denounced the mayhem at the Capitol, asserting in a tweet Wednesday afternoon that democracy — not anarchy — would prevail.

Ivanka Trump called those who stormed the Capitol “American patriots” in a tweet Wednesday that called for peace as the security breach escalated. The president’s daughter, who has served as a senior White House adviser in the administration for the last four years, quickly deleted the communication from Twitter, according to The Hill.

Rioters stormed into the Capitol halls, forcing police to evacuate congressional representatives and use tear gas to deploy the crowds.

Law enforcement instructed lawmakers to retrieve masks from under their seats amid the clashes. The Capitol was placed on lockdown, as Trump supporters marched through evacuated public spaces in the building.

Washington, D.C., Mayor Muriel Bowser ordered a curfew between 6 p.m. and 6 a.m. after rioters broke through barriers around the Capitol and stormed the buildings.

The House and Senate recessed about 2:15 p.m. ET, and Capitol police evacuated several congressional buildings, including the Cannon House office building. Videos posted online showed rioters fighting with U.S. Capitol Police officers as police fired pepper spray to keep them back.

Trump tweeted to his supporters to “stay peaceful” as they violently clashed with law enforcement and breached the Capitol.

Later in the day, Trump again urged his supporters to remain peaceful.

Congress convened at 1 p.m. to begin opening sealed certificates from each state that contain a record of their electoral votes. Wednesday’s congressional joint session to count the electoral votes has taken on added importance this year as Republicans allied with Trump were pledging to try to undo Biden’s victory.

Earlier this week, Bowser had requested D.C. National Guard personnel to help with crowd control and traffic issues. That personnel was unarmed.

Arizona became the first of several states expected to object to the counting of its Electoral College votes, shortly before 1:15 p.m. Pence, in his capacity as president of the Senate, then retired the House and Senate back to their respective chambers for what was expected to be about two hours of debate before mayhem ensued.

During those first debate hours, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said he would vote in favor of Biden’s Electoral College certification.

Biden, who won the Electoral College 306-232, is set to be inaugurated Jan. 20.

Pence reportedly told Trump on Tuesday he does not have the power to block Congress’ certification of Biden’s victory, according to The New York Times. On Wednesday, Pence also sent a letter to Congress, affirming his belief.

Pence, whose role in Wednesday’s proceedings is mostly ceremonial, was under intense pressure from the president and legions of supporters who want him to use the moment to overturn the election outcome in a handful of critical battleground states.

Under federal law, Congress must meet Jan. 6 to open sealed certificates from each state that contain a record of their electoral votes. The votes are brought into the chamber in special mahogany boxes used for the occasion.

Bipartisan representatives of both chambers read the results out loud and do an official count. Pence, who as vice president is also the president of the Senate, is scheduled to preside over the session and declare the winner.

The Constitution requires Congress to meet and count the electoral votes. If there is a tie, then the House decides the presidency, with each congressional delegation having one vote. That hasn’t happened since the 1800s, and Biden’s electoral win over Trump was decisive, 306-232.

Georgia casts its 16 electoral votes for Joe Biden

The two chambers meet together midday to count the votes. If the vice president cannot preside, there is precedent for the Senate pro tempore, or the longest-serving senator in the majority party, to lead the session. That’s currently Grassley.

The presiding officer opens and presents the certificates of the electoral votes in alphabetical order of the states. The appointed “tellers” from the House and Senate, members of both parties, then read each certificate out loud and record and count the votes. At the end, the presiding officer announces who has won the majority votes for president and vice president.

After a teller reads the certificate from a state, any member can stand up and object to that state’s vote on any grounds. But the presiding officer will not hear the objection unless it is in writing and signed by a member of the House and a member of the Senate.

If there is such a request, then the joint session suspends and the House and Senate go into separate sessions to consider it. For the objection to be sustained, both chambers must agree to it by a simple majority vote. If they do not both agree, the original electoral votes are counted with no changes.

The last time such an objection was considered was 2005, when Rep. Stephanie Tubbs Jones of Ohio and Sen. Barbara Boxer of California, both Democrats, objected to Ohio’s electoral votes, claiming there were voting irregularities. The House and Senate debated the objection and easily rejected it. It was only the second time such a vote had occurred.

In other U.S. elections, candidates are elected directly by popular vote. But the president and vice president are not elected directly by citizens.

Dozens of House Republicans and a smaller group of GOP senators are expected to object to the count from some swing states where Trump has alleged widespread fraud, despite the consensus of nonpartisan election officials and even Trump’s former attorney general that there was none. None of the members have presented detailed evidence, and none of them objected to the swearing-in of congressional lawmakers who won election on the same ballots.

In the Senate, Missouri Sen. Josh Hawley was the first to say he would join with the House Republicans. On Saturday, Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas announced a coalition of 11 additional senators who vowed to vote against unspecified state electors Wednesday unless Congress appoints an electoral commission to immediately conduct an audit of the election results. Hawley and Cruz are among potential 2024 presidential contenders.

The challenges have split the party. Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell has urged his colleagues not to object, saying last month on a private call that the vote would be “terrible.”

Several other Senate Republicans have criticized the effort as well, including Texas Sen. John Cornyn and South Dakota Sen. John Thune, the No. 2 Senate Republican. Thune said last month that any objections will go down “like a shot dog” in the Senate.

On Sunday, Nebraska Sen. Ben Sasse said the challenge is “bad for the country and bad for the party.”

GOP Senator Josh Hawley will object to Electoral College certification

Pence’s role is largely ceremonial, and he has no power to affect the outcome.

The role of the vice president as presiding officer is often an awkward one, as it will be for Pence, who will be charged with announcing Biden’s victory — and his own defeat — once the electoral votes are counted.

Pence won’t be the first vice president put in an uncomfortable situation. In 2001, Vice President Al Gore presided over the counting of the 2000 presidential election he narrowly lost to Republican George W. Bush. Gore had to gavel several Democrats’ objections out of order. In 2017, Biden presided over the count that declared Trump the winner. Biden also shot down objections from House Democrats that did not have any Senate support.

The joint session is the last official chance for objections, beyond court cases that have so far proven ineffective for Trump and his team.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.