U.S. Capitol Police ordered a lockdown Wednesday across the Capitol Complex, citing an external security threat, as thousands of Trump supporters stormed the building to protest Congress’ certification of Joe Biden’s presidential victory.
The Senate entered into recess as it was proceeding to certify the electoral college votes for Biden, and Vice President Mike Pence reportedly was ushered out of the building by the Secret Service via underground tunnels.
Video footage circulating on social media and American media showed Trump supporters breaching police lines outside of Congress and wandering through the Capitol building. TV news reports said tear gas was deployed as some protesters tried to break down the doors of the House chamber.
The election certification is usually a routine and ceremonial function that is the final step after the Electoral College officially elected Biden on December 14, but the certification was contested by a few GOP members of Congress.
As large crowds gathered at the Capitol building and clashed with police, President Donald Trump tweeted for them to “support Capitol police and law enforcement” and “stay peaceful.”
Washington Mayor Muriel Bowser put into place an overnight curfew for the city, starting at 6 p.m. local time.
A short time earlier, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell refused Wednesday to overturn the election results, saying he would “vote to respect the American people’s decision.”
Earlier Wednesday, Trump addressed thousands of supporters in Washington, before a large group of them marched to Capitol Hill. He told them he would “never concede,” as lawmakers gathered at the Capitol to certify the election of Joe Biden as America’s next president.
Speaking on stage set up in the Ellipse, with the White House as a backdrop, Trump repeated his false claims that November’s election was “stolen” and that he won in a “landslide.” Along with the “radical left Democrats,” Trump said the “fake news media” used “the China virus” — referring to the COVID-19 pandemic – as cover to “steal the election.”
Trump also called on Vice President Pence to “do the right thing” as he presides over the certification of the electoral vote in a largely ceremonial role late Wednesday, two weeks before Biden’s inauguration. Trump falsely insisted that “all Vice President Pence has to do is send it back to the states to recertify and we become president and you are the happiest people.”
In a letter released shortly after these remarks, Pence declined to vote against the electoral college.
“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,” he wrote.
Trump’s supporters, including some groups that clashed with police, started gathering in Washington Tuesday night. Authorities said they arrested at least six people on charges that included weapons and ammunition possession, assaulting a police officer and possessing a stun gun.
Washington’s streets were shut down, and Mayor Muriel Bowser called in the National Guard, fearing a repeat of sometimes-violent confrontations between protest groups the city experienced last year.
Downtown shops have been boarded up, and National Guard members assisted District of Columbia and National Park police in controlling crowds Wednesday.
Bowser and politicians in neighboring Maryland and Virginia urged residents to stay home Wednesday and avoid counterprotests.