The Hill’s Morning Report – A dark day as Trump embraces ‘special’ rioters
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Flashback: “Every four years, we gather on these steps to carry out the orderly and peaceful transfer of power. … What truly matters is not which party controls our government, but whether our government is controlled by the people. … The Bible tells us, ‘how good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity.’ We must speak our minds openly, debate our disagreements honestly, but always pursue solidarity. When America is united, America is totally unstoppable.” – President Trump, inaugural address at the Capitol, Jan. 20, 2017.
With tensions high and the nation’s capital on alert during an overnight curfew, Congress early this morning confirmed Joe Biden’s victory on Nov. 3 over President Trump hours after a violent mob that backed the president stormed the capitol in a failed attempt to block the electoral tally (The Associated Press).
Lawmakers completed their constitutionally prescribed task over objections raised by some House and Senate Republicans in a display of support for a peaceful transfer of power.
In one of the darkest chapters in American history, Trump supporters on Wednesday breached the Capitol building after the president addressed them at the Ellipse at midday, arguing the election had been “stolen” and vowing that he would not concede. The mob shattered Capitol windows and destroyed furniture, ransacked offices and swarmed the House chamber, pounded on doors and took selfies before some were arrested and the remainder were driven out by Capitol Police.
The scene of mayhem and vandalism viewed around the world was unprecedented in modern times. “We love you,” Trump later told his backers, calling them “special” while urging them to protest peacefully.
Four people died on Wednesday as part of the Capitol protests. One woman was shot while inside the building and later died. Fifty-two people were arrested and authorities issued a public appeal for photos, video and identifications of demonstrators in order to apprehend others (The Hill). It was the first time since the War of 1812, when the British set fire to the Capitol, that such violence and mayhem occurred at the site of U.S. democracy.
The Hill: Pro-Trump mob overruns the Capitol, forcing evacuation.
Niall Stanage: The Memo: Trump chaos comes to the Capitol.
Paul Kane, The Washington Post: Inside the assault on the Capitol: Evacuating the Senate.
The joint session officially established Biden as the victor of the 2020 election shortly before 4 a.m. (The Hill). The Senate voted down objections to the certification of the electoral ballots in Arizona (6-93) and Pennsylvania (7-92). Five senators voted to sustain the objections in both states: Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-Miss.), Tommy Tuberville (R-Ala.) and Roger Marshall (R-Kan.).
Moments after, Trump issued a statement that “there will be an orderly transition” in two weeks.
“Even though I totally disagree with the outcome of the election, and the facts bear me out, nevertheless there will be an orderly transition on January 20th,” the president said (The Hill).
In the midst of the day’s chaos, Vice President Pence was the first official to be swept to safety while presiding in the House chamber over a joint session of Congress. Trump, who had urged Pence to overturn the states’ electoral certifications, publicly assailed his vice president for rejecting his appeal to intervene to prevent the formal confirmation by Congress of Biden’s election.
Trump publicly criticized Pence for not having “the courage” to overturn the results. Early this morning, the vice president appeared to break with the president. Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) said in an interview that the mild-mannered former congressman and governor from Indiana was upset.
“I’ve known Mike Pence forever. … I’ve never seen Pence as angry as he was today,” Inhofe said. “I had a long conversation with him. He said, ‘After all the things I’ve done for [Trump].’”
Trump on Wednesday rebuked Pence’s chief of staff, Marc Short, by banning him from entering the White House grounds. Short told RealClearPolitics that Trump is “blaming me for advice” he gave to the vice president ahead of Wednesday’s joint session.
Wednesday’s insurrection also brought with it high profile departures by some within the White House and the administration. At least four staffers, including Stephanie Grisham, chief of staff for first lady Melania Trump, and deputy national security adviser Matt Pottinger, resigned Wednesday afternoon.
“Talked to so many other administration colleagues today. We’re all done with Trump. Today was disgraceful,” one administration official told the Morning Report.
The Washington Post: Aides weigh resignations and removal options as Trump rages against perceived betrayals.
The Hill: White House aides head for exits after chaos at Capitol.
The Hill’s Brett Samuels and Morgan Chalfant reported late Wednesday that administration officials began discussing the possibility of invoking the 25th Amendment, which would require a majority of Cabinet officials plus Pence to declare to Congress that Trump is unable to carry out his duties as president.
However, the discussions appear to be limited. It is unclear whether they have reached the level of any Cabinet members. A White House official said Pence had not been approached about or involved in discussions about removing Trump from office.
According to NBC News, at least 80 lawmakers called for Trump to either be removed by the 25th Amendment or impeached, although Biden’s inauguration is less than two weeks away. One group that is not calling for Trump’s removal, however, is congressional Republicans. According to one House Republican, that possibility has not been under discussion within the House Republican Conference.
Axios: Republicans consider drastic options to stop Trump.
Reuters: Explainer: Can Trump be removed from office before his term ends on Jan. 20?
With less than two weeks before Biden’s inauguration, lawmakers and officials are asking if conditions in the nation’s capital can get any worse.
“Yes it can. Yes it can,” one House Republican, who was granted anonymity for safety reasons, told the Morning Report. “We have a large group of Americans who feel ignored, some condoning violence. We have a president who is willfully peddling conspiracy theories to stay in power and ignoring the constitution. It is a volatile situation.”
Other lawmakers are less certain.
“It could. It’s a possibility. It’s also very possible this is a breaking point and things get better,” said Rep. Brendan Boyle (D-Pa.), pointing to the Senate’s votes against the objections. “On this point, I think the two Georgia results help show there is a downside for just going along with Trumpism. … But in the end, I don’t know. Time will tell.”
Politico Magazine: “Is this really happening?”: The siege of Congress, seen from the inside.
The New York Times: The Army deployed 1,100 members of the District’s National Guard and 650 Virginia National Guard troops around the nation’s capital on Wednesday night to reinforce law enforcement. For reasons that were unclear, Vice President Pence, not Trump, approved the order. Trump initially rebuffed and resisted requests to mobilize the National Guard, according to a person with knowledge of the events. It required intervention from the White House counsel, Pat Cipollone, among other officials.
The Hill: Guns drawn, tear gas deployed at the Capitol.
The Hill: Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s Capitol office was vandalized by pro-Trump rioters.
NBC News and The Hill: A woman died after being shot inside the Capitol on Wednesday. Her death is under investigation, according to the Metropolitan Police Department. Witness video of an injured woman being assisted after an apparent shooting appeared on Twitter. The woman was later identified as Trump supporter Ashli Babbit of San Diego, an Air Force veteran. Three other deaths occurred at the Capitol, according to D.C. police, who did not describe the victims or circumstances.
The Associated Press: Scenes of violence shock Americans, the world.
The Hill: Police used tear gas, smoke grenades to try to clear the Capitol grounds ahead of an overnight curfew, which was ordered by D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser (D).
Wednesday’s chaos affected political deliberations inside the Republican Party and nationwide. Former President George W. Bush, the lone-living former GOP president, issued a blistering statement on Wednesday evening, calling what happened a “sickening and heartbreaking night.”
“This is how election results are disputed in a banana republic — not our democratic republic. I am appalled by the reckless behavior of some political leaders since the election and by the lack of respect shown today for our institutions, our traditions, and our law enforcement,” Bush said, adding that the attack was “undertaken by people whose passions have been inflamed by falsehoods and false hopes,”
“Insurrection could do grave damage to our Nation and reputation. In the United States of America, it is the fundamental responsibility of every patriotic citizen to support the rule of law,” the 43rd president added. “To those who are disappointed in the results of the election: Our country is more important than the politics of the moment” (The Hill).
The Associated Press: Insurrection marks moment of reckoning for Republicans.
Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) described events he witnessed on Wednesday during an interview with The New Yorker, blaming Trump for fomenting violence but arguing that Congress should now look forward. Trump, he said, “has been removed from office by a vote of the people. He will be removed by the electoral vote [in Congress]. He will be removed officially by a ceremony a few days from now. Let’s put our energy into planning for a successful Presidency and allow Congress to address issues, not to absorb more time.”
The day’s events were a black eye for the United States as a beacon of democracy globally.
“How do we tell the Chinese and the Russians with any kind of credibility that they need to get their act together on human rights when we can’t even keep our closet clean? We have no credibility,” a GOP aide told the Morning Report. “We are undermining democracy from within. The next time a strongman comes to power in a coup and we say, ‘Hey you should have had an election’ or there was an irregularity or election fraud, people are going to say, ‘Who are you to say this?’”
“The fallout is going to be significant,” the aide added. “How do we have moral high ground on certain issues?”
Another topic of concern: security in the Capitol complex, especially ahead of the Jan. 20 inauguration. Rep. Rodney Davis (R-Ill.), ranking member on the House Administration Committee, told the Morning Report that the issue is indeed being looked at, but declined to comment further. Bowser extended an emergency order until 3 p.m. on Inauguration Day (The Washington Post).
Merkley said what appeared to be inadequate preparations by the Capitol Police to safeguard the building and its occupants “will be scrutinized up and down in every possible way in the months to come. And certainly at this moment we are all feeling a lot of gratitude to the police who put their lives on the line to keep us safe today, but we have a common sense that preparations weren’t sufficient, and we need to understand why and what happened.”
The Hill: Capitol Police face heat following mob breach.
LEADING THE DAY
Wednesday’s dramatic events sparked instantaneous calls for leaders to lead. What did they say?
Trump promised weeks ago to speak in person with supporters who were expected to protest Congress’s confirmation of Biden’s electoral victory. He began the afternoon at the Ellipse near the White House, stirring protesters’ passions with unfounded assertions that Democrats and the news media “rigged an election.” Voicing his support for the crowd’s loyalty, the president said, “We will never give up and we will never concede.”
Trump was at the same time furious with Pence, who presided Wednesday afternoon in the Capitol (The Hill). The vice president told Trump he had no power to show “extreme courage,” as Trump called it, to overturn the electoral tally.
Hours later, a pro-Trump mob scaled walls and broke through Capitol doors in an effort to halt Congress’s constitutionally mandated affirmation of Biden’s 306 electoral votes. Viewing the chaos on television, the president’s initial reaction on Twitter was tentative. He urged his fans to be “peaceful.”
The Hill: Trump, after a delay, told Wednesday’s rioters to “go home,” while repeating his claim that election results were “fraudulent.”
Urged by frantic fellow Republicans to strongly order demonstrators to vacate the Capitol, the president opted to create a one-minute video filmed in the Rose Garden, which the White House posted to social media. Because it contained Trump’s repeated falsehoods about “a fraudulent election” and “an election that was stolen from us,” his videotaped offers of “love” for “very special” rioters while also urging “peace” were taken down by Twitter and Facebook under rules barring misinformation on their platforms (transcript here).
Biden, who was already scheduled to speak in Wilmington, Del., in the afternoon, assailed the perpetrators as closer to sedition than dissent and he urged Trump, without knowing about the president’s video remarks, to “step up.” Biden called the day’s events a “godawful display” and said, “democracy is under unprecedented assault … in the citadel of liberty, the Capitol itself.” The president-elect, who spent decades inside the building as a senator, said the “chaos” must end, suggesting that Trump had incited a “siege” after months of false accusations, incendiary rhetoric and his refusal to concede defeat.
The Hill: Biden condemns “insurrection” at the Capitol.
Earlier on Wednesday, Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who will soon forfeit his leadership role in the new Congress following his party’s Senate runoff defeats in Georgia on Tuesday, delivered a forceful speech of his own, pushing back against fellow Republicans who were in the process of forcing votes on futile objections to the Electoral College results certified by 50 states.
The Hill: McConnell, in a Senate floor speech, rebuked Republican colleagues’ efforts to overturn the November presidential election. “I will not pretend such a vote will be a harmless protest gesture while relying on others to do the right thing. I will vote to respect the people’s decision and defend our system of government as we know it,” he said.
McConnell added in a subsequent address after the Senate returned from the evacuation that the rioters “tried to disrupt our democracy” with their “failed insurrection.”
“This United States Senate will not be intimidated. We will not be kept out of this chamber by thugs, mobs or threats. We will not bow to lawlessness or intimidation. We are back at our posts,” McConnell said. “The Congress has faced down much greater threats than the unhinged crowd we saw today.”
Cruz, a ringleader behind the strategy to object to the electoral tallies, followed Trump’s lead in dangling the notion of a rigged election during a floor speech minutes before the president’s supporters began to storm the Capitol.
The Washington Post: Cruz, who hopes to run again for president in 2024, delivered a Senate speech that will live in infamy. “We are gathered at a time when democracy is in crisis,” the senator said while trying to curry favor with Trump’s base.
IN FOCUS/SHARP TAKES
POLITICS: The Senate will be narrowly controlled by Democrats, it became clear on Wednesday. In Georgia, Democrat Jon Ossoff was the winner of a Senate runoff after ballots were counted overnight. He defeated former Sen. David Perdue (R-Ga.). Ossoff joins Baptist minister Raphael Warnock, the Democrat who defeated Sen. Kelly Loeffler (R-Ga.) on Tuesday (The Hill). At 33, Ossoff will be the youngest senator elected since Biden won a seat in 1972 at age 29 to represent Delaware (The Associated Press).
NEW ADMINISTRATION: Judge Merrick Garland, 68, previously the chief judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, is Biden’s pick to be attorney general (Politico, The Associated Press). Biden will also nominate Lisa Monaco as deputy attorney general; Vanita Gupta as associate attorney general; and Kristen Clarke as assistant attorney general for civil rights. Former President Obama nominated Garland, a moderate, to the Supreme Court in 2016, but McConnell blocked all efforts for almost a year to consider Obama’s nominee, holding open a vacancy created by the death of Justice Antonin Scalia. The Senate in 1997 confirmed Garland as a judge by a vote of 76-23. Eleven senators who cast votes at that time remain in the Senate; McConnell opposed Garland in 1997, while Biden, who was then a Delaware senator, supported him.
> The Justice Department on Wednesday confirmed that it was breached as part of the recently discovered Russian hack of IT company SolarWinds, with around 3 percent of agency employee emails accessed by the hackers (The Hill).
> The Trump administration for the first time conducted lease sales in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) on Wednesday, opening 1.6 million acres to oil and gas drilling along the coast, a change embodied in a 2017 law that the Biden administration will inherit and seek to change. There was one primary buyer for the leases in Alaska: the state of Alaska. Biden has said he will “permanently protect” ANWR, and the late-stage nature of the sale along with numerous lawsuits could slow the process, giving the incoming administration further avenues to block drilling (The Hill).
The Morning Report is created by journalists Alexis Simendinger and Al Weaver. We want to hear from you! Email: email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org. We invite you to share The Hill’s reporting and newsletters, and encourage others to SUBSCRIBE!
Trump is to blame for the Capitol attack, by The New York Times editorial board. https://nyti.ms/2LnWrFg
This is Trump’s legacy, by David Von Drehle, opinion columnist, The Washington Post. https://wapo.st/3nhAkxn
Trump wants everything his heart desires, including riots, by Timothy L. O’Brien, opinion columnist, Bloomberg News. https://bloom.bg/2Xhx22L
WHERE AND WHEN
The House will meet on Monday at 11 a.m. for a pro forma session.
The Senate is out of session until Jan. 19.
The president has no events on his public schedule. He had been expected to speak to attendees at the Republican National Committee winter meeting in Amelia Island, Fla., which features potential 2024 presidential aspirants (Fox News).
Economic indicator: The Labor Department will report at 8:30 a.m. on claims for jobless benefits filed in the week ending Jan. 2. Unemployment remains high because of the winter surge in coronavirus transmissions.
Biden will deliver remarks in Wilmington, Del. Vice President-elect Kamala Harris will meet with transition advisers.
➔ CORONAVIRUS: Total U.S. coronavirus deaths reported each morning this week: Monday, 351,590; Tuesday, 353,621; Wednesday, 357,385; Thursday, 361,279.
> Grim record: The U.S. recorded at least 3,805 deaths from the novel coronavirus on Wednesday, marking the single-deadliest day of the pandemic (CNN).
> Vaccines & inoculations: Governors and the Trump administration are scrambling to speed up the vaccine effort after a slow start. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar announced on Wednesday that in addition to a nursing home vaccination program, pharmacies from 19 chains will be allowed to help with dispensing shots to ease pressure on hospitals, which have been the main vaccine providers so far. More than 40,000 drugstores will eventually be involved, Azar said. The pharmacies will still have to follow state guidelines about priority populations for vaccination (The Associated Press).
> Mutations: The United States has no large-scale, nationwide system for checking coronavirus genomes for new mutations, including the ones carried by the new coronavirus variant, which has been detected in the United Kingdom and in this country. Scientists believe it’s a serious vulnerability while the U.S. wrestles a grave threat and a slow vaccination plan (The New York Times).
> International: In Europe, a commission approved Moderna’s vaccine, giving the 27-nation bloc a second vaccine to inoculate individuals against COVID-19 (The Associated Press). … Canada announced on Wednesday that it will not extend its ban on flights from Great Britain, which expired overnight. The ban was enacted due to the new, highly contagious variant of the coronavirus (Reuters).
> Infected: Rep. Kevin Brady (R-Texas) announced on Twitter that he tested positive for COVID-19, joining a growing list of lawmakers who have contracted the virus. He said the House physician told him Tuesday night that he tested positive and must quarantine. He received the first dose of the Pfizer vaccine on Dec. 18, he said, adding that he tested negative for the coronavirus on Jan. 1 (The Hill). … Rep. Jake LaTurner (R-Kan.) became the third House member to test positive for COVID-19 this week. LaTurner received a positive result late Wednesday night and immediately quarantined. He is currently asymptomatic (The Hill).
➔ JUSTICE: The Louisville Metropolitan Police Department has fired two detectives involved in the March raid that killed Breonna Taylor, including the officer who fired the shot that killed her. Miles Cosgrove and Joshua Jaynes were fired on Tuesday, becoming the second and third officers to be dismissed from the department following the killing. Former officer Brett Hankison was terminated in June after it was determined that he “blindly” fired into Taylor’s apartment 10 times (The Hill).
And finally … Morning Report offers a word of support for the U.S. Capitol Police, who defended lawmakers and staff members, the public and journalists, the Capitol building and democracy against a small mob that interrupted proceedings to exercise First Amendment rights with violence and vandalism.