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Mayhem erupts in the U.S. Capitol as Congress certifies electoral votes

The nation on Wednesday witnessed a grave breach of its democratic traditions. For the first time in American history, supporters of the losing presidential candidate have forcibly disrupted the official counting of electoral votes. John Yang reports.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    The nation today has witnessed a grave breach of its democratic traditions.

    For the first time in American history, supporters of the losing presidential candidate forcibly disrupted the official counting of electoral votes.

    John Yang begins our coverage.

  • John Yang:

    Chaos erupted at the U.S. Capitol today, when pro-Trump demonstrators breached barricades and pushed their way inside as lawmakers were in the process of making president-elect Biden's election official.

    Protesters scuffled with police. The Capitol was put on lockdown while law enforcement tried to regain control. Tear gas was fired outside the building to disperse the crowd, and both chambers were empty.

    Vice President Mike Pence was rushed to safety. The vice president later tweeted: "The violence and destruction taking place at the U.S. Capitol must stop, and it must stop now."

    House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, who supports congressional efforts to challenge the election's outcome, described hearing gunshots and condemned the violence as unacceptable.

    A D.C. law enforcement officials said at least one person had been shot.

    An extraordinary sight inside the House chamber, police drawing their guns while protesters tried to force their way inside. Demonstrators could be seen occupying the dais. Another image showed a protester inside House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's office.

    All 1,100 members of the D.C. National Guard were activated. In addition, Virginia and Maryland called up their National Guardsmen to help reinforce the Capitol. D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser imposed a 6:00 p.m. curfew.

    In Wilmington, Delaware, president-elect Biden condemned the violence.

  • President-Elect Joe Biden:

    What we're seeing are a small number of extremists dedicated to lawlessness. This is not dissent. It's disorder. It's chaos. It borders on sedition. And it must end now.

  • John Yang:

    And President Trump released a recorded message, which repeats unfounded claims about the election.

  • President Donald Trump:

    I know your pain. I know your hurt. We had an election that was stolen from us. It was a landslide election. And everyone knows it, especially the other side.

    But you have to go home now. We have to have peace. We have to have law and order.

  • John Yang:

    The chaos at the Capitol came after President Trump urged protesters to march on the building.

  • Donald Trump:

    We will never give up. We will never concede. It doesn't happen. You don't concede. You don't concede when there's theft involved.

    (CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

  • John Yang:

    He spoke at a rally on the Ellipse shortly before a joint session got under way, airing oft-repeated and baseless claims of election fraud.

    Many of the thousands of protesters who descended on the city picked up the president's call.

  • Woman:

    We're going to stop this steal from happening, because, if we don't, nobody's ever going to vote again. There's not going to be any integrity in our voting system. So, everybody's probably just going to stop voting, because, if it's not going to matter…

  • John Yang:

    Some said they wanted the vice president to refuse to count votes from swing states that Mr. Trump lost.

  • Man:

    What needs to happen today is, Vice President Pence needs to not open the seven state electors' envelopes for the states that I mentioned, set them aside, and send it all back to those state legislatures.

  • John Yang:

    It was a desire expressed by the president himself.

  • Donald Trump:

    Mike Pence is going to have to come through for us. And if he doesn't, that will be a sad day for our country.

  • John Yang:

    After the vice president said the Constitution doesn't give him the authority to do that, the president tweeted that Mr. Pence didn't have the courage to do what should have been done to protect our country.

    Before the chaos broke out inside the Capitol, it was the vice president himself who called the joint session to order.

  • Vice President Mike Pence:

    Madam Speaker, members of Congress, pursuant to the Constitution and the laws of the United States, the Senate and House of Representatives are meeting in joint session.

  • John Yang:

    One by one the state's Electoral College certificates were opened and examined.

  • Sen. Roy Blunt:

    The certificate of the electoral vote of the state of Alabama seems to be regular in form and authentic.

  • John Yang:

    But a process that in the past had been quaintly ceremonial turned into a sharply partisan dispute, as some Republicans challenged President Trump's losses in key states, beginning with Arizona.

  • Mike Pence:

    Are there any objections to counting the certificate of vote of the state of Arizona?

  • John Yang:

    Republican Representative Paul Gosar of Arizona:

  • Rep. Paul Gosar:

    I rise both for myself and 60 of my colleagues to object to the counting of the electoral ballots from Arizona.

  • John Yang:

    He was joined by Texas Senator Ted Cruz, sending lawmakers to debate the objection in their respective chambers.

    When Republican Leader Mitch McConnell opened the Senate debate, he seemed to warn of what was to come.

  • Sen. Mitch McConnell:

    The voters, the courts, and the states have all spoke. They have all spoken.

    If we overrule them, it would damage our republic forever. If this election were overturned by mere allegations from the losing side, our democracy would enter a death spiral. We'd never see the whole nation accept an election again. Every four years would be a scramble for power at any cost.

  • John Yang:

    Cruz denied he was trying to set aside any votes. He said he was trying to make sure they were legitimate by investigating them.

  • Sen. Ted Cruz:

    Recent polling shows that 39 percent of Americans believe the election that just occurred — quote — "was rigged."

    You may not agree with that assessment. But it is nonetheless a reality for nearly half the country.

  • John Yang:

    Democrats accused those objecting of casting doubt on the democratic process.

  • Sen. Chuck Schumer:

    The Congress does not determine the outcome of elections. The people do. The Congress is not endowed with the power to administer elections. Our states are given that power.

  • John Yang:

    Across the Capitol, in the House chamber, many of the same arguments were made.

  • Colorado Republican Representative Lauren Boebert:

  • Rep. Lauren Boebert:

    Ten extra days were added via judicial fiat to allow voter registration. These 10 days were added after voting had already begun.

    This is completely indefensible. You cannot change the rules of an election while it is under way and expect the American people to trust it!

  • John Yang:

    But Democrats, like Representative Joe Neguse of Colorado, dismissed their claims.

  • Rep. Joe Neguse:

    Today, we hear from in this chamber, not all, but some of my colleagues on the other side of the aisle, vague claims of fraud, no substance, no evidence, no facts, no explanation for why over 88 judges across this land have rejected the very same claims.

  • John Yang:

    When order had not been restored in the Capitol by day's end, House leaders decided to call it quits and try to finish dealing with the Arizona objection tomorrow.

    When they reconvene, Republican lawmakers plan to object to results in two more states, Georgia and Pennsylvania, objections at the root of the emotions that fueled the protests that disrupted the process today.

    For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm John Yang.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And we have two new updates as this story unfolds. We have learned that lawmakers will crush tonight to count the official electoral votes.

    And there has now been confirmation from two news organizations that the woman who was shot inside the Capitol has died.

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