(CNN) — Congress resumed its counting of the Electoral College votes just after 8 p.m. ET Wednesday evening after the process of declaring President-elect Joe Biden the winner of the 2020 election was abruptly halted when rioters incited by President Donald Trump breached the Capitol and forced the House and Senate to be evacuated.
Lawmakers in both parties made clear they were determined to finish the count following the chaos at the US Capitol, which delayed the proceedings for more than five hours while lawmakers were forced into lockdown by a pro-Trump mob that overran US Capitol Police.
The Senate resumed its session to consider an objection to Arizona’s election results, picking back up where they were when both the House and the Senate were forced to recess. Vice President Mike Pence, who was evacuated from the Senate earlier Wednesday, was back presiding over the 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, it remained unclear how of the House and Senate Republicans who had planned to object to at least an additional two states’ election results on Wednesday would still do 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.
While they were waiting for the Senate chamber to be readied for debate to resume, senators tried to cajole the Republicans who had planned to object to Georgia and Pennsylvania to back down after they finish debate over Arizona’s election results, two Senate sources familiar with the conversations told CNN.
“We’re trying to expedite matters,” said Sen. Roger Wicker, a Mississippi Republican, predicting the counting would be finished Wednesday evening.
It’s not yet clear whether the senators planning to object, including Missouri GOP Sen. Josh Hawley, will drop those objections. Hawley did not respond to questions about his plans on the way back to the Capitol.
The House and the Senate are separately debating the Arizona objection, and after a bipartisan majority rejects the objection, the joint session of Congress will resume counting Electoral College votes in the House.
Wednesday’s unprecedented chaos at the Capitol played out shortly after the House and Senate had started debating the Arizona objection, when the rioters breached the barrier outside the Capitol and soon thereafter, the Capitol itself. Both the House and Senate recessed their sessions in response to the scene unfolding outside: Capitol Police drew their guns at a barricaded House door as lawmakers evacuated the chamber.
While they waited in lockdown, GOP Rep. Liz Cheney and Democratic Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, the leaders of their respective conferences, told members — together — that the National Guard was on the way and they would return to the floor as soon as they could, a source said. The violence, they said, would not keep them from doing their job. The whole room applauded, the source said.
“This is the United States. We will not allow mob rule to undermine the rule of law,” Jeffries said.
After their pristine Senate chamber was invaded, several senators including Manchin, Shelly Moore Capito of West Virginia and Susan Collins of Maine went around with spray bottles and wiped down their own and others’ historic desks.
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.
“The President bears responsibility for today’s events by promoting the unfounded conspiracy theories that have led to this point,” GOP Sen. Richard Burr of North Carolina, who is not running for another term, said in a statement.
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.”
The Electoral Count Act, the 19th century law governing Wednesday’s proceedings, does not require Congress to finish counting on January 6.
Before the chaos, McConnell rebuked Trump
The chaos broke out after Senate Majority Leader Mitch 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 the Senate’s debate of an objection to Arizona’s election results that was formally lodged by a group of House and Senate Republicans.
The push is destined to fail, with Democrats and a significant number of Republicans planning to vote down all of the objections in both the House and the Senate, criticizing the effort both as a hopeless attempt to reverse the election outcome and as a threat to democracy that would subvert the will of the voters.
The question now is whether Republicans will still try to push their objections in the wake of the rioting at the Capitol.
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, 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 on Wednesday morning, continuing to pressure Pence to go beyond his authority in Wednesday’s joint session of Congress.
“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.
McConnell sought to dissuade any senators from signing onto the objections to the Electoral College votes, which would have prevented roll-call votes on the challenges. But last week, Missouri GOP Sen. Josh Hawley announced he would join the objection to Pennsylvania.
Rep. Paul Gosar, an Arizona Republican, objected to Arizona’s election results, along with Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas.
Georgia GOP Sen. Kelly Loeffler — who CNN projects has lost her seat to Democrat Raphael Warnock but will remain in office until Tuesday’s Georgia runoff results are certified — has signaled she will object to Georgia’s result. It’s not clear if she still plans to do so.
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.