WASHINGTON — The Senate and House restarted the Electoral College count on Wednesday evening after rioters violently stormed the Capitol and brought the proceedings to a standstill and the building under siege.
Congressional leaders reopened the proceedings – normally a routine, ceremonial affair – amid ongoing uncertainty about the tenor of the debate, how long it might take or when lawmakers might finish the final step in formalizing President-elect Joe Biden’s electoral win.
“Today was a dark day in the history of the United States Capitol,” Vice President Mike Pence, the president of the Senate, said as he resumed the session. “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 those injured in our Capitol today.”
“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.”
Pence ended his comments saying, “Let’s get back to work.”
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi reconvened the House about an hour later, promising, “Our purpose will be accomplished.”
“We must and will show to the country, and indeed to the world, that we will not be diverted from our duty, that we will respect our responsibilities to the Constitution and to the American people.”
“To those who strove to deter us from our responsibility, you have failed,” Pelosi said. “To those who engaged in the gleeful discretion in this — our temple of democracy, American democracy — justice will be done.”
Even as lawmakers gathered in the House and Senate’s stately chambers, a phalanx of law enforcement officials worked to disperse the crowd who had gathered at the behest of President Donald Trump.
“They tried to disrupt our democracy,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said. “They failed. They failed. This failed insurrection only underscores how crucial the task before us is for our republic.”
He vowed, “We will certify the winner of the 2020 presidential election. Criminal behavior will never dominate the United States Congress.”
Sen. Chuck Schumer, the top Democrat in the chamber, said the day would “live forever in infamy” along with other watershed events.
“This will be a stain on our country, not so easily washed away,” Schumer said. He called the attack on the Capitol “the final terrible, indelible legacy of the 45th president of the United States, undoubtedly our worst.”
He said the riot at the Capitol “did not happen spontaneously” but at the instigation of President Donald Trump.
“This temple to democracy was desecrated, it’s windows smashed our offices vandalized,” said Schumer. He said Trump “bears a great deal of the blame” for the violence.
“This mob was in good part President Trump’s doing, incited by his words, his lies. This violence in good part is his responsibility, his everlasting shame. Today’s events certainly would not have happened without him.”
As the debate got underway, it seemed that at least some of the Republicans who were in the midst of objecting to the Electoral College count – dragging out the process – would drop their plans.
“I cannot now in good conscience object to the certification of these voters,” said Kelly Loeffler, the Georgia Republican who lost her runoff election on Tuesday to Democrat Raphael Warnock. “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 sanctity of the American democratic process.”
Earlier in the day, several of the objectors – including Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas and Josh Hawley of Missouri – were spotted meeting separately from other senators who had been moved to the undisclosed location.
Asked if there was any resolution on how to move forward, GOP Sen. Mike Braun of Indiana responded “not yet,” according to pooled reports from a journalist on the Hill.
When the rioters breached the Capitol, lawmakers were in the middle of debating an objection to Arizona’s vote count. Hawley and others signaled they were going to object to at least two additional states; each objection to a state’s count triggers a two-hour debate and a vote.
“I think it’s all going to be condensed,” Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., told reporters. “There’s gonna be probably 30 or 40 more minutes of debate, and one vote.”
In the House, another Republican said she would drop her objections after the attack on the Capitol.
“I have decided I will vote to uphold the Electoral College results and I encourage Donald Trump to condemn and put an end to this madness,” said Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash. “What happened today and continues to unfold in the nation’s capital is disgraceful and un-American.”
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi advised House members and staff to remain on the Capitol complex until they are notified by the United States Capitol Police. She said further guidance will be provided later.
Lawmakers earlier said they’re prepared to meet again as soon as the Capitol is cleared. A citywide curfew went into effect in Washington, D.C., at 6 p.m ET. Officers from multiple law enforcement agencies are outside on the Capitol complex, but only 13 arrests have been made.
“We have stopped the coup attempt and will be returning to the Capitol today to finish the business of the people,” Rep. Jason Crow, D-Colo., posted on Twitter late Wednesday afternoon.
Federal law requires a joint session of Congress meet on Jan. 6 at 1 p.m. after every presidential election to count the Electoral College votes submitted by states. But the law does not contemplate a delay in proceedings. Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris will be sworn in on Jan. 20.
Even before the violence at the capitol building, the session was shaping up to be a marathon with Republican lawmakers objecting to electoral votes from perhaps six or more states.
Staff reporter Deirdre Shesgreen contributed to this report. Reach Joey Garrison on Twitter @joeygarrison.