President Trump finally acknowledged early on Thursday morning that he would soon leave office after Congress convened late into the night to certify President-elect Joe Biden's victory following a mob assault on the U.S. Capitol by Trump's supporters that featured widespread looting and vandalism and left four people dead.
Congress rejected multiple Republican objections to the Electoral College results in a late-night joint session held after Trump supporters, personally urged by the president to march on the Capitol during a late-morning rally, attacked and overran police, broke into the Capitol, smashed windows and destroyed property, and forced a lockdown and an evacuation of both the House and Senate chambers. Vice President Mike Pence announced Biden as the winner of the presidential election just after 3:40 a.m. on Thursday.
Trump, who is temporarily locked out of his social media accounts for his role in stoking Wednesday's riot with fraudulent claims of election rigging, issued a statement minutes later through White House aide Dan Scavino's Twitter account.
"Even though I totally disagree with the outcome of the election, and the facts bear me out, nevertheless there will be an orderly transition on January 20th," he said. "I have always said we would continue our fight to ensure that only legal votes were counted. While this represents the end of the greatest first term in presidential history, it's only the beginning of our fight to Make America Great Again!"
Many lawmakers at the joint session directly blamed Trump for stoking Wednesday's violence, with more than three dozen Democrats calling for his impeachment while others called on Pence to invoke the 25th Amendment to remove the president from office. Some of the Republican senators who planned to object to the Electoral College results changed their minds after Wednesday's mayhem but more than 140 Republicans, including seven senators, went ahead with their objections.
Republicans initially planned to challenge the results in at least five states but ultimately raised objections to electors from Arizona and Pennsylvania, which were overwhelmingly defeated. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, joined 121 House Republicans to lead the Arizona challenge. Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., spoke during the debate on Arizona and later signed on to an objection to Pennsylvania's results but declined to speak. The Senate soundly rejected the Pennsylvania challenge without debate while 138 House Republicans voted to disenfranchise millions of the state's voters. House Republicans also tried to object to the results in Georgia, Michigan and Nevada but no senator backed their challenge.
Hawley, the first senator to announce he would object to the results, "had blood on his hands," the Kansas City Star editorial board wrote in a blistering op-ed on Wednesday, arguing that no one except Trump himself was "more responsible" for the Capitol riot.
Though the group of die-hard Trump loyalists in Congress went ahead with their scheme to throw out millions of legal votes, the vast majority of speakers from both parties trashed the plot and the riot that it sparked.
"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," said Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, in a speech that seemed aimed at the history books. "What happened here today was an insurrection incited by the president of the United States."
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. — who will lose that post after Biden takes office and two new Democratic senators from Georgia are sworn in — warned of lasting damage caused by members of his own party.
"Voters, the courts, and the states have all spoken — they've all spoken," he said. "If we overrule them, it would damage our republic forever."
"Enough is enough!" declared Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., who until now has been a loyal Trump ally, adding that Biden was "lawfully" elected.
"When it's over, it is over. It is over," he said. "As a conservative, this is the most offensive concept in the world that one person could disenfranchise 155 million people," he added.
Outgoing Sen. Kelly Loeffler, R-Ga., fresh off her defeat to the Rev. Raphael Warnock in Tuesday's runoff election, dropped her plan to challenge the results in her home state after the riot.
"The events that have transpired today have forced me to reconsider," she said.
On the House side, Rep. Conor Lamb, D-Pa., nearly sparked an inter-party brawl after he directly blamed Republicans for Wednesday's riot.
"That attack today, it didn't materialize out of nowhere," he said. "It was inspired by lies — the same lies that you're hearing in this room tonight." Those remarks prompted a heated exchange between Republicans and Democrats sitting behind Lamb, prompting aides to intervene.
Other lawmakers, like freshman Rep. Cori Bush, D-Mo., a progressive who ousted a longtime Democratic incumbent in a primary election, called for Republicans who backed the electoral challenge to be expelled from Congress.
But Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., was unrelenting, parroting the far-right talking point that antifa members were to blame for Wednesday's violence even though countless videos and photos show Trump supporters, including well-known QAnon figures and even a West Virginia state legislator, storming the Capitol and invading the Senate chamber and lawmakers' offices.
Admitting that he didn't know "if the reports are true," Gaetz declared on the House floor that "some of the people who breached the Capitol today were not Trump supporters. They were masquerading as Trump supporters and in fact, were members of the violent terrorist group antifa."
Gaetz's false claim was echoed across conservative media and by other right-wing lawmakers like Rep. Mo Brooks, R-Ala., a leader of the pro-Trump objection caucus. Even during a night full of falsehoods about the election, the egregious antifa falsehood drew boos from the House chamber, given the ample evidence that pro-Trump attackers posed for photos, live-streamed their riot and bragged about it afterward.
Police said four people died during the riot, including a woman who was reportedly shot by officers when she tried to breach the House chamber. The woman was identified by her family as Ashli Babbitt, a 14-year Air Force veteran and avowed QAnon conspiracist, according to the San Diego news outlet KUSI and Fox 5 DC. The other three died from "separate medical emergencies," police said. At least 14 officers were injured and 56 people were arrested on Wednesday, including 26 on the Capitol grounds. Police also found two pipe bombs at the headquarters of the Democratic National Committee and the Republican National Committee.
The mob assault on the Capitol was the culmination of Trump's baseless election fraud claims, which began well before any votes had been cast or counted. Trump and his supporters urged attendees at Wednesday morning's rally on the National Mall to go to the Capitol, and Rudy Giuliani, the president's personal lawyer, even proposed settling the election dispute in a "trial by combat." Trump later resisted activating the D.C. National Guard after Capitol Police were overrun, prompting Pence to step in and mobilize the troops no questionable authority, according to CNN.
"To those who wreaked havoc in our Capitol today, you did not win," Pence said when he reconvened the joint session Wednesday night. "Violence never wins. Freedom wins. And this is still the people's house."
The comments were a stark departure from Trump's statement earlier in the day, urging the rioters to leave but adding that he "loved" them and that they were "very special." Trump's role in fomenting the violence has sparked an exodus of White House employees and other Trump employees, including former White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney (who until Thursday was a special envoy to Northern Ireland) and deputy national security adviser Matt Pottinger. Stephanie Grisham, chief of staff to Melania Trump and the former White House press secretary, has also resigned along with deputy White House press secretary Sarah Matthews. National security adviser Robert O'Brien and Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, who is married to McConnell, are also considering stepping down, according to NBC News.
Many observers have questioned why law enforcement was so unprepared for a violent insurrection after Trump supporters publicly announced their plans to storm the Capitol weeks ahead of time. Intelligence agencies circulated "scores of social media posts" calling for violence against lawmakers, according to ABC News.
"I have always felt safe at the Capitol," Rep. Karen Bass, D-Calif., told the outlet. "It would have never dawned on me that this is the place where I needed to be afraid."
Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Ohio, told Politico there would be a "number of people" fired in response to the "insurrection and the attempted coup, but also the lack of professional planning and dealing with what we knew was going to occur."
"If Black people were storming the Capitol, they would have been treated so much differently than they were today," Ryan said. "I don't think there's any question that communities of color would have been handled much, much differently."