- Supporters of President Trump stormed the Capitol, with some breaking their way inside, after the president declared, again, that he would not concede defeat to President-elect Joe Biden.
- As a mob broke into the legislative chambers and offices, lawmakers and staff went into lockdown and the certification of the election results was delayed.
- Multiple lawmakers described the events as an “insurrection” incited by the president. Under the Constitution, the offence can be punished with banishment from public life.
- Lawmakers are exploring other constitutional remedies against the president, including impeachment.
- Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.
January 6, 2021, is a day that will live in infamy in American history.
Under the Constitution and laws of the United States, both houses of Congress, with Vice President Mike Pence presiding, were charged with a solemn yet largely ministerial duty: counting the electoral votes from among the several states and declaring Joe Biden and Kamala Harris the next president and vice president of the United States.
All of that was supposed to happen according to a script Congress itself set out in federal law in 1887. Pence recognised as much. “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 in a letter he made public on Wednesday. “My role as presiding officer is largely ceremonial.”
He added that for 130 years and “without exception,” Congress has hewed to the procedures for tabulating the votes that determine, every four years, who becomes the next U.S. president. Pence’s hands were tied.
Except that was not good enough for Donald Trump. On this day, exactly two weeks before the end of his presidency, he wanted his vice president to do more. “If Mike Pence does the right thing we win the election,” Trump told a crowd of his supporters during a rally near the White House, moments before Congress was about to let democracy proceed toward a Biden presidency.
“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,” Trump said, distorting the text, history, and traditions that have guided the peaceful transfer of power in the United States since at least the Civil War.
Then came the marching orders to storm the Capitol. “We’re going to walk down, and I’ll be there with you,” Trump said, lying to his supporters.
Egged on by the president, the mob responded in kind. And for the first time in American history, the mob lay siege to Congress, bringing to a halt the constitutional step needed to pave the way for the next presidency. For several hours on Wednesday, chaos prevented the people’s representatives from doing their jobs.
Congress resumed the process late on Wednesday and worked overnight to certify Biden’s victory in the early hours of Thursday. But the damage had been done.
“What happened here today was an insurrection incited by the president of the United States,” Mitt Romney, the sole Republican senator to vote to remove Trump from office during last year’s impeachment proceedings against the president, said after Congress resumed its joint session.
The Utah senator wasn’t the only one to call the storming of the Capitol an insurrection against the United States. Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader, called it a “failed insurrection.” Biden, during televised remarks decrying the president and the mob’s actions, urged Trump “to fulfil his oath and defend the Constitution and demand an end to this siege.”
“Threatening the safety of duly elected officials â€” it’s not protest,” Biden said. “It’s insurrection.”
If this insurrection was Trumpism’s last stand, it is exactly the kind of crisis that the 14th Amendment was designed to resolve. The amendment, which secured the promise of equality and citizenship for Black people in the wake of the Civil War, includes a provision for what to do with those who engage in or support the subversion of American constitutional ideals. Its text commands that no one who has previously taken an oath to support the Constitution yet has “engaged in insurrection or rebellion” against that same Constitution “shall â€¦ hold any office.” The remedy is banishment from public life.
Whether Congress would invoke the amendment against Trump is an open question. If the Reconstruction amendments, of which the 14th is part, were meant to rebuild a nation torn apart by the scourge of slavery and racism, they might just hold the key to help Americans heal from this assault on our democracy â€” one that saw a Confederate flag flying freely in the corridors of Congress.
One key Republican argument against removal at the time of Trump’s impeachment in 2020 was that voters would soon render their verdict on him at the ballot box.
Now that the election has been decided, and Trump has spent the better part of the past two months either discrediting it or fighting to overturn it, the damage to democracy is done and will outlast him. After Wednesday’s attack on the constitutional process, looking to the Constitution may yet be the only solution.
An expeditious second impeachment leading to removal and disqualification from future office is one alternative. “This need not be a lengthy process,” wrotePrinceton politics professor Keith Whittington. “The evidence of the president’s actions are clear and available to all. The House does not need an elaborate inquiry. The Senate does not need a lengthy trial.” (Democratic Sens.-elect Rev. Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff of Georgia may not be seated on time, but a truly bipartisan verdict shouldn’t need them.)
Another one is the invocation of the 25th Amendment, which allows for the vice president, backed by a majority of the Cabinet, to take the reins of the Executive branch temporarily in the event the president is “unable” to fulfil his duties. Some senior administration officials have reportedly considered invoking the amendment, albeit only informally.
In no uncertain terms, The Washington Post editorial board has called for both options to be exercised post-haste. “The president is unfit to remain in office for the next 14 days,” the board wrote. “Every second he retains the vast powers of the presidency is a threat to public order and national security.” On Thursday, Chuck Schumer of New York, soon to be the Senate’s majority leader, joined the chorus of Democrats and Republicans calling for Trump’s swift removal via either method. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi followed suit shortly thereafter, calling Trump’s instigation on Wednesday a “seditious act” while acknowledging that time is of the essence. “While it’s only 13 days left, any day can be a horror show for America,” she said.
In a statement early on Thursday, after Congress sealed his electoral loss, Trump pledged an “orderly transition” come Inauguration Day.
The nation may not have that much time to spare. Whatever happens until Biden is sworn in, January 6, 2021, will forever be remembered as a day of lawlessness and disorder â€” the very kind of American carnage that, from the steps of the Capitol, Trump promised he’d stop the day he himself became the benefactor of a free and fair election.
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