Congress certifies Biden’s win with more GOP support after Capitol breach

Some Republicans had a change of heart about supporting objections to swing state counts

Fire trucks line Independence Avenue as the Capitol is under lockdown Wednesday in Washington.  (Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call)
Fire trucks line Independence Avenue as the Capitol is under lockdown Wednesday in Washington. (Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call)
Posted January 7, 2021 at 3:41am

Congress early Thursday morning certified President-elect Joe Biden’s win of 306 Electoral College votes after voting down objections to counting Arizona and Pennsylvania’s results.

The certification of Biden’s presidential victory was never in doubt, but the previous day’s events did not go as planned after a pro-Trump mob stormed the Capitol and disrupted the proceedings.

Some Republicans had a change of heart about supporting objections to swing state counts after the rioting, which led to at least four deaths — a woman shot by Capitol Police and three medical emergency fatalities.

Heading into Wednesday’s joint session, 13 GOP senators and roughly 100 House Republicans had announced plans to support objections in three to six states.

An objection required support from at least one member of each chamber in order to be considered by Congress. Ultimately, only the objections to Arizona and Pennsylvania's results met that threshold.

The objections were not sustained, with the votes showing that support for the challenges had dwindled.

The Senate rejected the Arizona objection by a vote of 6-93, and the Pennsylvania objection, 7-92.

The House likewise did not sustain the objections, rejecting the Arizona challenge 121-303 and the Pennsylvania challenge 138-282.

The joint session then resumed and counted the remaining 12 states’ votes, certifying Biden's victory.

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Debate, interrupted

The joint session to certify the results started at 1 p.m. Wednesday and ended at 3:44 a.m. Thursday.

Senate Chaplain Barry Black gave the closing prayer to an eventful day-plus.

“These tragedies have reminded us that words matter, and that the power of life and death is in the tongue. We have been warned that eternal vigilance continues to be freedom’s price,” he said.

Less than two hours into the proceedings, a mob of President Donald Trump’s supporters — heeding his calls to prevent Congress from certifying Biden’s win — breached the security perimeter outside the Capitol and broke their way into the building.

The House and Senate recessed their deliberations on the GOP objection to certifying Arizona’s 11 electoral votes as the mob made their way to the second floor of the Capitol and toward the chambers.

Lawmakers, staff and reporters were evacuated from the Capitol to secure locations on campus and huddled there for hours before given the clear to return.

Although the Capitol was secure, the building sustained a lot of damage that would take more time to clean up, including damaged doors, broken glass and bullet marks. The Rotunda was littered with trash and an abandoned Trump flag.

Law enforcement presence increased across the Capitol as lawmakers prepared to resume the certification proceedings. Officers from multiple agencies, including the FBI — some in tactical gear and carrying automatic weapons — were stationed outside the Senate chamber.

The Senate resumed its session just after 8 p.m., nearly six hours after it had recessed. The House gaveled back in around 9 p.m.

“To those who wreaked havoc in our Capitol today, you did not win,” Vice President Mike Pence said as he presided over the opening of the Senate.

“Violence never wins. Freedom wins. And this is still the people’s house,” Pence added. “And as we reconvene in this chamber, the world will again witness the resilience and strength of our democracy, for even in the wake of unprecedented violence and vandalism at this Capitol, the elected representatives of the people of the United States have assembled again on the very same day to support and defend the Constitution of the United States.”

Senators gave Pence a standing ovation. The events of the day have prompted calls, mostly from Democrats, for Pence and the Cabinet to invoke the 25th Amendment to remove Trump from office. If that occurs, Pence would serve as president until Biden is sworn in on Jan. 20.

’What America is made of’

As lawmakers in both chambers resumed debate, they emphasized that their resolve to certify the election results was stronger than ever after the attack on the Capitol. The top four leaders presented a unified message condemning the attacks.

“The United States and the United States Congress have faced down much greater threats than the unhinged crowds we saw today,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said. “They tried to disrupt our democracy. They failed.”

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Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer added: “Democracy’s roots in this nation are deep, they’re strong, and they will not be undone ever by a group of thugs. Democracy will triumph, as it has for centuries.”

In the House, Speaker Nancy Pelosi reopened the proceedings by noting that the session was always going to be historic in demonstrating the peaceful transfer of power.

“And despite the shameful actions of today, we still will do so,” the California Democrat said. “We will be part of a history that shows the world what America is made of.”

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy joined the other congressional leaders in calling for unity “Let’s show the country the mob did not win. We have a job to do. Let’s do it with pride,” he said.

But McCarthy did not take the same position the other leaders did in voting against the challenges. He voted to support the objections to both Arizona and Pennsylvania.

‘Get this ugly day behind us’

The impact of the riots at the Capitol varied among Republicans. Some of the Republicans supporting challenges to the electoral count were shaken into submission.

“I think today changed things drastically,” GOP Sen. Mike Braun of Indiana told reporters shortly before the Senate session resumed. “I think whatever point you made before, that should suffice and that we get this ugly day behind us.”

Georgia Republican Sen. Kelly Loeffler, fresh off her own election loss, had planned to object to certification of her state’s 16 electoral votes. She announced on the floor that she was dropping her challenge after the violence at the Capitol.

“The events of today that have transpired have forced me to reconsider, and I cannot now object to the certification of these electors,” she said. “The violence, the lawlessness and siege of the halls of Congress are abhorrent and stand as a direct attack on the very institution my objection was intended to protect: the sanctity of the American democratic process.”

Loeffler’s remarks drew applause from some Democrats, but most of the claps and cheers came from Republicans.

Later after the joint session resumed and the count arrived at Georgia, Rep. Jody B. Hice, a Republican from the state, did offer an objection. But it was not entertained since there was no longer a Senate co-sponsor, as is required to force debate and a vote.

Some objections continue

GOP Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia, Mo Brooks of Alabama and Louie Gohmert of Texas offered objections, respectively, to Michigan, Nevada and Wisconsin’s results. But without Senate co-sponsors, the objections were not entertained. Even before Wednesday’s events, no senator had planned to join in those challenges.

Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., moved forward in co-sponsoring an objection with Rep. Scott Perry, R-Pa., to Pennsylvania’s 20 electoral votes.

“Our Constitution was built and put into place so that there would be, in the words of Abraham Lincoln, no appeal from ballots to bullets, which is what we saw unfortunately attempted tonight,” Hawley said. “There is no place for that in the United States of America. And that’s why I submit to my colleagues that what we are doing here tonight is actually very important because for those who have concerns about the integrity of our elections, those who have concerns about what happened in November, this is the appropriate means, this is the lawful place where those objections and concerns should be heard.”

While many Republicans held firm in voting to sustain the challenges to Arizona and Pennsylvania, several others who had planned to do so changed their minds after the Capitol breach.

That included six GOP senators who switched from supporting to opposing both objections: Braun, Tennessee’s Marsha Blackburn and Bill Hagerty, Montana’s Steve Daines, Wisconsin’s Ron Johnson and Oklahoma’s James Lankford.

Wyoming Sen. Cynthia Lummis voted against the Arizona objection but for the Pennsylvania challenge, while Louisiana Sen. John Kennedy did the opposite.

In the House, few Republicans switched their plans to support objections. Of those who had announced their positions of support in advance, only Reps. Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington and Michael Waltz of Florida ended up voting against the challenges to both the Arizona and Pennsylvania challenges.

Chris Cioffi, Mark Burnett, Chris Marquette and Niels Lesniewski contributed to this report.