GOP senators blame Trump after mob overruns Capitol
Republican lawmakers voiced frustration with President Trump on Wednesday after rioters stormed the Capitol seeking to disrupt Congress’s counting of the Electoral College vote.
Trump has for months offered baseless claims that the election was “rigged” and encouraged his supporters to gather in Washington, including urging them to take to the Capitol lawn. On Wednesday, a pro-Trump mob invaded the Capitol, damaging and vandalizing the building, including both chambers and leadership offices.
GOP lawmakers, many of whom have stuck closely with Trump since he came to power in 2017, pointed to his rhetoric as a driving factor behind Wednesday’s violence.
“We witnessed today the damage that can result when men in power and responsibility refuse to acknowledge the truth. We saw bloodshed because a demagogue chose to spread falsehoods and sow distrust of his own fellow Americans. Let’s not abet such deception,” Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) said from the Senate floor.
Asked if he thought Trump’s rhetoric caused the riots, Sen. Mike Rounds (R-S.D.) said he hadn’t seen all of the president’s comments but “he certainly did not help.”
“If anything, he urged in a very emotional situation, very inappropriate action by people that appear to be his supporters,” Rounds said.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who has aligned himself closely with Trump, said in a fiery floor speech that he had tried to support the president but “enough is enough.”
“Trump and I, we had a hell of a journey. I hate it being this way. … All I can say is count me out. Enough is enough. … We’ve got to end it,” Graham said.
Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.) said Trump “bears some responsibility” for the violence at the Capitol.
“Today in watching his speech, I have to admit I gasped. I mean, first of all his treatment of Mike Pence … if there was nothing else, his treatment of Mike Pence is unjustified, wrong and really unfortunate,” Cramer said, adding that the president’s treatment of his No. 2 was “really irritating.”
Cramer added that Trump’s election rhetoric, including urging his supporters to gather outside the Capitol, was “inciting” and “pouring fuel.”
Wednesday was already expected to highlight one of the biggest divisions between Trump and congressional Republicans, as GOP lawmakers sided with Democrats to affirm President-elect Joe Biden’s Electoral College win despite a plan by dozens of their conservative colleagues to make an hours-long, guaranteed-to-fail effort to throw out the results in key battleground states.
The Senate and House both rejected the first challenge to Arizona’s election results, in the wake of the riots. But the challenge still got the support of six Senate Republicans and 121 House Republicans, including House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), supporting throwing out the results.
The joint session comes after Republicans have already broken with Trump on big policy decisions including handing him first veto override just last week.
But the previous schisms paled in comparison to reaction by GOP lawmakers to violence from a pro-Trump mob.
Rep. Chip Roy (R-Texas) said opposing Trump’s attempts to overturn the election “may well sign my political death warrant. So be it.” Rep. Liz Cheney (Wyo.), the No. 3 House Republican, pulled no punches when she told Fox News: “There is no question that the president formed the mob, the president incited the mob. … He lit the flame.”
Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), who has aligned himself closely with Trump, released a statement calling on him to concede.
“It’s past time for the president to accept the results of the election, quit misleading the American people, and repudiate mob violence,” Cotton said.
Trump and his allies have spread unverified claims that the election was stolen even as their election challenges were rejected by dozens of courts and election experts have dismissed claims of widespread election fraud.
Trump first tweeted on Wednesday afternoon urging supporters to “stay peaceful” and support law enforcement without expressly condemning those using force to enter the Capitol. The president tweeted again 35 minutes later to urge “no violence” and emphasizing the need to respect police.
Under growing pressure, he then tweeted around 4:15 p.m. to tell his supporters to “go home” though he continued to praise them and repeat his false claims of election fraud.
“Go home. We love you, you’re very special,” Trump said in a video posted to Twitter. “I know how you feel. But go home and go home in peace.”
Twitter later removed the tweets and temporarily suspended Trump’s account for violating its policies.
As rioters stormed the Senate, senators were first told to shelter in place before being evacuated to a secure location.
Leaving the area hours later, Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) was asked if he wanted to hear what Trump had said about the violence. Blunt, a member of GOP leadership, said he didn’t “want to hear anything.”
“I think it was a tragic day and he was part of it,” Blunt said.
Sen. John Thune (S.D.), the No. 2 Senate Republican, said Trump’s rhetoric “sure didn’t help.”
“Certainly encouraging people to go to the Capitol and some of the sort of implied suggestions I think are you know … they just encourage the wrong behavior,” Thune said.
Some of the president’s most frequent GOP critics were more direct.
“We gather due to a selfish man’s injured pride, and the outrage of supporters who he has deliberately misinformed for the past two months and stirred to action this very morning. What happened today was an insurrection incited by the president of the United States,” said Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) from the Senate floor.
Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) also directly blamed Trump, who he accused of being “cowered behind his keyboard.”
“Lies have consequences,” Sasse said. “This violence was the inevitable and ugly outcome of the president’s addiction to constantly stoking division.”
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