After two months of throwing kindling on President Donald Trump’s fire of lies and conspiracy theories about the 2020 election, Republican lawmakers saw the consequences up close Wednesday when rioters stormed and seized control of the U.S. Capitol to thwart the final certification of President-elect Joe Biden’s victory in the November vote.
The lawmakers explicitly or implicitly endorsed Trump’s fabrications about election fraud, then learned that you reap what you sow. They embarked in their own effort to overturn an election that court after court has validated. But when thousands of Trump diehards ― who had been egged on by the president at a Wednesday morning rally at the nearby National Mall ― violently invaded the Capitol, the lawmakers didn’t like it.
The mob swarmed the building Wednesday as Congress debated an objection to Arizona’s 11 electoral votes being awarded to Biden ― the start of a broader scheme orchestrated by a handful of Republicans to dispute the outcomes in several states that Biden won.
As Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) spoke on the Senate floor about the need to give voice to believers in Trump’s “rigged” election falsehoods, rioters began breaching the Capitol, abruptly halting the proceedings and forcing the Senate into a recess. A parallel debate in the House similarly came to a quick end and the chamber was emptied.
Reports soon surfaced of an armed standoff between Capitol Police officers and mob members on the House side of the building; pictures quickly circulated of officers guarding the doors to the chamber’s floor with guns drawn. A woman was shot inside the Capitol and was pronounced dead at a local hospital hours later. Three other people died after suffering “medical emergencies,” according to police.
With the Capitol on lockdown, Vice President Mike Pence and members of the House and Senate were evacuated from the building, some wearing gas masks after tear gas was fired by police. As rioters rampaged through parts of the Capitol, including the Senate floor, and broke into offices ― including that of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) ― the Republicans who spent weeks helping foment the rage finally began to offer (tepid) condemnations of the madness.
Before the unprecedented assault on the Capitol, Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri, the first Senate Republican to say that he would attempt to invalidate the results of key swing states that Biden carried, had saluted a crowd of demonstrators supporting his effort outside the Capitol Wednesday morning.
A few hours later, he called for an end to the violence he helped incite, declared that those attacking the police must be arrested, and said Congress should “finish its job.”
That job, according to Hawley, was unchanged by the deaths and violence. He objected to the certification of Pennsylvania’s electoral votes, which, combined with objections from House members, added hours to the process of finalizing votes. The objection failed.
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) ― who, after Hawley took the lead in the decertification push, signed on to it with 11 other Senate Republicans ― tweeted that the rioters were “hurting the cause.”
Like Hawley, Cruz still voted for objections to the electoral votes from Arizona and Pennsylvania.
In total, six Republican senators voted in favor of the objection to Arizona’s electoral votes: Cruz, Hawley, Roger Marshall of Kansas, Tommy Tuberville of Alabama, Cindy Hyde-Smith of Mississippi and John Kennedy of Louisiana.
Seven GOP senators voted in favor of the objection to Pennsylvania’s votes: Cruz, Hawley, Marshall, Tuberville, Hyde-Smith, Cynthia Lummis of Wyoming and Rick Scott of Florida.
Seven other Republicans senators, in contrast, dropped their plans to vote for objections after the violence ― though, of course, this was well after they’d boosted conspiracy theories that encouraged the mob.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), who on Sunday announced his support for the effort in the House to overturn the election, suddenly became concerned about other parts of the Constitution.
McCarthy later voted to toss out electoral votes from Pennsylvania and Arizona.
Rep. Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.), a staunch Trump ally known to traffic in conspiracy theories, had raised an objection to the counting of his state’s electoral votes early Wednesday afternoon, helping kick off the debate that began in each chamber. He baselessly asserted that the Arizona results were illegitimate. A few hours later, he was worried that the protesters who came to support his cause might be getting “carried away.” He voted for their aims anyway.
Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Ala.), who led the GOP decertification effort in the House and has continually claimed that the election was stolen from Trump, called the riot he’d helped incite “senseless.”
Several hours later, Brooks voted to throw out Arizona and Pennsylvania’s electoral votes.
So did Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.), a newly installed lawmaker who during the 2020 campaign gained national attention for her embrace of the nonsensical QAnon conspiracy movement.
Greene ― who was among many House Republicans on board with the decertification attempt ― urged the rioters to keep up the fight to overturn the election, but to do so peacefully.
Rep. Mike Kelly, a Pennsylvania Republican who was an early challenger of Biden’s win of his state, issued a similar plea before voting to throw out votes.
Several other Senate Republicans who joined the doomed Hawley-Cruz crusade also joined them in insisting that promoting violence was not what they had in mind. That included Lummis:
Some did not support the objection when it was time to vote, such as Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.)...
...Sen. Steve Daines (R-Mont.)...
...Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.)...
...and Sen. Bill Hagerty (R-Tenn.):
For all of the imploring expressed in these and other tweets, the insurrectionists sacking the Capitol were inflamed by the lies spoken by Trump and backed by these members of Congress.
Trump in his Wednesday remarks had directly told his listeners to go to the Capitol to help stop Congress from affirming Biden’s victory in the electoral vote.
Previously, he had infamously said “We’re going to have to see what happens,” when asked if he would commit to a peaceful transfer of power.
The answer is clear now. He wouldn’t, and a core of GOP lawmakers who now may want to absolve themselves will be forever linked to consequences of that.
Elise Foley contributed reporting. This story has been updated throughout.