The Senate overwhelmingly rejected an attempt to object to the presidential election results in Arizona after the debate was halted for hours on Wednesday when rioters incited by President Donald Trump breached the Capitol and forced the House and Senate to be evacuated.
The Senate voted 93 to 6 to dismiss the objection raised by Republicans Rep. Paul Gosar of Arizona and Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas. Congress resumed the counting of the Electoral College votes Wednesday evening after the process of affirming President-elect Joe Biden as the winner of the 2020 election was paused for more than five hours while lawmakers were forced into lockdown by a pro-Trump mob that overran US Capitol Police.
Just six Republicans voted to sustain the objection, after several other Republicans who had planned to join them changed their minds following the riots.
The Senate and House both resumed their sessions to consider an objection to Arizona’s election results following the lengthy delay, and the House was still slated to vote on the objection.
Vice President Mike Pence, who was evacuated from the Senate earlier Wednesday, was back presiding over the Senate session.
“To those who wreaked havoc in our Capitol today, you did not win,” he said as the Senate session resumed. “As we reconvene in this chamber, the world will again witness the resilience and strength of our democracy, even in the wake of unprecedented violence and vandalism in this Capitol.”
Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who has pushed back against Trump’s effort to use the joint session to overturn the election results, said that Congress has “faced down much greater threats than the unhinged crowd we saw today.”
“They tried to disrupt our democracy. They failed,” the Kentucky Republican said.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer charged that Trump “bears a great deal of the blame” for Wednesday’s violence and rioting.
“This mob was a good part President Trump’s doing, incited by his words, his lies,” the New York Democrat said. “Today’s events almost certainly would not have happened without him.”
As congressional leaders vowed to finish counting the Electoral College votes, many of the senators who had planned to object to several states’ election results said they were no longer doing so.
“I think today changed things drastically,” said Sen. Mike Braun, an Indiana Republican who was one of the objectors. “Whatever point you made before that should suffice. (Let’s) get this ugly day behind us.”
Sen. Kelly Loeffler, the Georgia Republican who lost her Senate race on Tuesday, said she had prepared to object to her home state’s presidential election results, but was no longer planning to do so following the riots.
“The violence, the lawlessness and siege of the halls of Congress are abhorrent and stand as a direct attack on what my objection was intended to protect, the sanctity of the American democratic process,” Loeffler said.
Another two Republicans who planned to object, Sens. Steve Daines of Montana and James Lankford of Oklahoma, released a joint statement saying they were dropping their objections. “We now need the entire Congress to come together and vote to certify the election results,” the senators said.
Not all Republicans dropped their objections. Missouri Sen. Josh Hawley, who was the first Republican senator to announce an objection, condemned the violence but argued that the Senate floor was the proper venue to debate the allegations surrounding the election. House Republicans offered a similar sentiment when that chamber’s debate resumed.
Hawley still plans to object to Pennsylvania’s results, a spokesman said, which would force a second round of debate and votes on the objection.
Other Republicans who voted to object to the Arizona results included Sens. Cindy Hyde-Smith of Mississippi, Roger Marshall of Texas, John Kennedy of Louisiana, Tommy Tuberville of Alabama and Cruz.
Republicans and Democrats alike condemned the protesters for breaching the US Capitol, and several blamed Trump — who pushed for Republicans and Pence to use the joint session of Congress to overturn the election result — for the dangerous situation that unfolded.
“We gather due to a selfish man’s injured pride and the outrage of supporters who he deliberately misinformed for the past two months and stirred to action this very morning,” said Sen. Mitt Romney, the Utah Republican and 2012 GOP presidential nominee.
“What happened today was an insurrection incited by the president of the United States,” Romney added, warning those who voted to back Trump’s objections would “forever be seen as being complicit in an unprecedented attack against our democracy.”
Speaking in Delaware, Biden called on Trump to demand an “end to this siege.”
“Our democracy is under unprecedented assault, unlike anything we’ve seen in modern times, an assault in a citadel of liberty: The Capitol itself,” he said.
Trump subsequently urged protesters in a video to “go home” while repeating his unfounded claims about a stolen election.
“You have to go home now. We have to have peace,” Trump said. “We have to have law and order.”
Before the chaos, McConnell rebuked Trump
The chaos broke out after McConnell on Wednesday delivered a forceful rebuke of Trump’s baseless claims of widespread election fraud, warning his fellow Republicans of the damage their efforts to try to overturn the election won by Biden could do to democracy.
“The Constitution gives us here in Congress a limited role. We cannot simply declare ourselves the national board of elections on steroids,” McConnell said on the Senate floor. “The voters, the courts and the states have all spoken. They’ve all spoken. If we overrule them, it would damage our Republic forever.”
McConnell had opened ahead of a push from his fellow Republicans that was destined to fail, with Democrats and a significant number of Republicans intending to vote down all of the objections.
Track the electoral vote count in Congress
Sen. Rand Paul, a Kentucky Republican, tweeted a thread in opposition to voting against the election results, describing it as “the speech I’ll be giving today from an undisclosed location.”
“The vote today is not a protest; the vote today is literally to overturn the election! Voting to overturn state-certified elections would be the opposite of what states’ rights Republicans have always advocated for,” Paul said.
During the brief Senate debate, Cruz, who joined the House Republicans’ objection of Arizona’s results, pointed to polling that has shown millions of Americans believe the election was rigged — polling that has been fueled by Trump’s repeated false claims about the election outcome.
Cruz argued that he isn’t calling for “setting aside the results of the election” — even though Trump plainly is — but Cruz pushed instead for an electoral commission to investigate claims of voter fraud. Democrats and many of Cruz’s fellow Republicans, however, have argued there’s no role for Congress to interfere in state elections.
While there is no evidence of widespread voter fraud, Trump and his campaign have been pushing baseless and false conspiracy theories that the election was rigged against him. The President and his allies lost dozens of lawsuits across the country both claiming fraud and challenging the constitutionality of state election laws altered due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
All eyes on Pence
As his losses have mounted since November 3, Trump has gone after the courts that ruled against him, state election officials and lawmakers who haven’t embraced his conspiracy theories or tried to overturn the will of the voters, Senate Republicans who oppose his anti-democratic push to overturn the Electoral College result and even Pence, who presided over Wednesday’s joint session of Congress before he was evacuated.
Trump addressed his supporters who converged on Washington near the White House Wednesday morning, continuing to pressure Pence to go beyond his authority while encouraging his supporters to march on the Capitol ahead of the riots.
“I hope Mike is going to do the right thing,” Trump said at the rally on the Ellipse. “If Mike Pence does the right thing, we win the election.”
But Pence wrote in a letter to lawmakers Wednesday that he did not have the “unilateral authority” to intervene.
“Our Founders were deeply skeptical of concentrations of power and created a Republic based on separation of powers and checks and balances under the Constitution of the United States,” Pence wrote. “Vesting the Vice President with unilateral authority to decide presidential contests would be entirely antithetical to that design.”
Congress’ counting of the Electoral College votes is typically little more than an afterthought, after the Electoral College officially votes for President in December. Just twice since the process was established in the 19th century have votes been forced on Electoral College results, and several other would-be challenges have quickly fizzled because no senator joined them.
Joint session in the shadow of Georgia’s runoff
Wednesday’s events played out as Democrats swept the Georgia Senate races, taking control of a 50-50 Senate after Biden is sworn in and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris becomes the Senate’s tie-breaking vote.
The question of how to handle the count had created a major divide inside the Republican Party. The Senate Republican fight spilled into the open last week following Hawley’s announcement, with Trump attacking McConnell and other Republicans who haven’t joined.
In the House, No. 3 Republican Cheney — daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney — has forcefully pushed back on the objections, while Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy has quietly backed them.
For every state where there’s a House member and senator objecting, the two chambers separate and debate for two hours, before voting on the objection. Aides had predicted each state objection will take as much as four hours.
The states’ votes are read alphabetically. If either chamber votes down the objection after the debate, the states’ votes are counted and then counting continues.
The last time a lawmaker forced votes on the Electoral College results was in 2005, when Sen. Barbara Boxer, a California Democrat, objected to President George W. Bush’s win in Ohio, which she said was never an effort to overturn the election result. In 2017, a group of House Democrats raised several objections to states Trump won, but they were gaveled down because they didn’t have a senator join — by then-vice president Biden.
This story has been updated with additional developments.