Police were drawn into an armed stand-off with Donald Trump supporters on the floor of Congress as the outgoing president’s followers stormed the US Capitol building to protest his election defeat.
During a speech in Washington on Wednesday, Trump made a last-ditch attempt to subvert democracy and re-install himself in the White House – and urged his followers to protest his loss outside the building.
Soon after, videos and pictures emerged of Trump supporters breaking police barricades and forcefully entering the building.
One woman died after being shot during the mayhem, Washington police said. The FBI said it had disarmed two suspected explosive devices.
At 5.30pm (10.30pm UK time), officials declared the Capitol complex “secure” after heavily armed police moved to end a nearly four-hour violent occupation.
In a speech, president-elect Joe Biden said that democracy is “under an unprecedented assault”.
The former vice president said that for demonstrators to storm the Capitol, smash windows, occupy offices, invade Congress and threaten the safety of duly elected officials: “It’s not a protest, it’s insurrection.”
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The demonstrations flared as lawmakers met inside to formally certify Biden’s victory over Trump in the November 3 election.
The Senate and the House of Representatives, which were weighing objections to Biden’s victory brought by a band of pro-Trump Republican lawmakers, abruptly and unexpectedly recessed.
At one stage, police told politicians in the House of Representatives chamber to take gas masks from beneath their seats and ordered them to drop to the floor for their safety. Officers drew their guns as someone tried to enter the House chamber.
Police piled furniture against the doors of the House chamber as protesters tried to break them down. A Trump supporter left a note in the office of US speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi. The note read: “WE WILL NOT BACK DOWN.”
Despite earlier encouraging supporters to protest, Trump tweeted that they should “stay peaceful” – despite many running rampant in the building. He later tweeted a video asking his supporters to “go home”, but also told his followers that the results of the election were fraudulent – a claim that is not true – and he feels their “pain”. Twitter removed the video and issued Trump with his first ever ban – albeit for 12 hours.
Protesters swarmed the Capitol as vice president Mike Pence rebuffed the president’s demand to overturn his loss and the Senate’s Republican leader denounced a bid in Congress to undo the election outcome.
Pence, a loyal lieutenant during the four years of Trump’s tumultuous presidency, presided over the opening of the joint session of Congress to formally certify Biden’s victory. A band of Republican lawmakers quickly challenged the results, first from the election battleground state of Arizona won by Biden.
Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell objected to the effort, saying: “If this election were overturned by mere allegations from the losing side, our democracy would enter a death spiral.”
McConnell helped give Trump some of the biggest accomplishments of his presidency, including deep tax cuts and confirmation of conservative judicial nominees.
Biden won the election by 306-232 in the state-by-state Electoral College and by more than seven million ballots in the national popular vote, but Trump continues to falsely claim there was widespread fraud and that he was the victor.
Pence turned away Trump’s demand that the vice president unilaterally reject state electoral votes on the same day Trump’s fellow Republicans were poised to lose their majority in the Senate. The joint session of Congress could last past midnight.
“We will never give up,” Trump earlier told thousands of cheering supporters on a grassy expanse near the White House called the Ellipse. “We will never concede. It doesn’t happen. You don’t concede when there’s theft involved.”
Trump in his speech applied fresh pressure on Pence to try to reverse the election results. In a statement, Pence said he shares the concerns about the “integrity” of the election but that is not correct that he should be able to accept or reject electoral votes unilaterally.
The US Constitution does not give Pence the power to unilaterally overturn the results of the election, but he is under pressure to do so from Trump.
In a TV address, Biden called the violent protests on the US Capitol “an assault on the most sacred of American undertakings: the doing of the people’s business”.
Biden also demanded that Trump immediately makes a televised address calling on his supporters to cease the violence that he described as an “unprecedented assault” as pro-Trump protestors violently occupy the US Capitol.
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