On Wednesday, Congress met to count and certify Joe Biden’s Electoral College victory over President Donald Trump, normally a pro forma act. About one hour before the House and Senate met in a joint session that was already bound to be unprecedented due to dozens of Republicans’ stated intention to object to the certification of the results, Trump spoke to a crowd of thousands of supporters and instructed them to march to the U.S. Capitol to attempt to ensure that the 2020 election was overturned. “We’re going to walk down Pennsylvania Avenue,” Trump said as he prepared to exit the stage, after more-than-an-hour-long remarks in which he said the election had been stolen and called for it to be overturned. “And we’re going to the Capitol. And we’re going to try and give … our Republicans—the weak ones because the strong ones don’t need any of our help—we’re going to try and give them the kind of pride and boldness that they need to take back our country.”
The crowd listened. The mob marched from the Ellipse in front of the White House grounds to the U.S. Capitol building on the other end of the National Mall. They then clashed with Capitol Police, stormed the U.S. Capitol building, and paused the vote count that was meant to end Trump’s presidency in two weeks. Members of Congress were then reportedly asked to put on gas masks and evacuate, as Capitol Police confronted the violent mob. Members of the crowd literally broke down doors to storm and take over the Capitol building and the congressional chambers. There were multiple armed standoffs. At least one woman was shot and is reportedly in critical condition. D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser called a 6 p.m curfew for the city, and the White House reported that the National Guard was being called up to restore order. A Confederate flag was seen flying outside of the Senate chamber. A suspected explosive device was reportedly found at Republican National Committee headquarters.
This was a violent, criminal attack on American democracy. And the president, via his continued encouragement and provocation of this mob, is responsible for it. There is only one way to hold him accountable: Congress must impeach and remove him from office immediately. The president has repeatedly said he would never go along with a peaceful transition of power. He confirmed that position on Wednesday and then invoked a violent mob to ensure the vote count stopped. There is no reason to expect he will go quietly on his own by Jan. 20. He must be removed from office before he has a chance to do any more damage.
Some members of Congress seem to understand this fact. Rep. Ilhan Omar said on Wednesday afternoon that she was drawing up Articles of Impeachment following the NAACP’s calls for impeachment. Rep. Cori Bush stated that she would seek expulsion from Congress of any members who continue to enable the president’s incitement of domestic terror.
These are more than reasonable courses of action. Those who think Trump can’t do much more damage in the 14 days he has remaining need only look at Wednesday’s events. Prior to the assault on the Capitol, Trump demanded that Mike Pence unilaterally overturn the election when he presided over the joint session and threatened Pence if he didn’t. “We will never concede,” he told the audience. His personal attorney Rudy Giuliani had previously primed them to be prepared for “trial by combat,” while his son Donald Trump Jr. said of congressional Republicans “we’re coming for you and we’re going to have a good time doing it.”
As Trump’s mob was assaulting the Capitol and forcing his own vice president’s evacuation, the president tweeted an attack on Pence: “Mike Pence didn’t have the courage to do what should have been done to protect our Country and our Constitution, giving States a chance to certify a corrected set of facts, not the fraudulent or inaccurate ones which they were asked to previously certify. USA demands the truth!” As things escalated, he put out a pair of mealy-mouthed tweets calling for respect of law and order. Finally, after President-elect Joe Biden called on him to “step up” and address the nation to call off his “mob” that was participating in “insurrection,” Trump put out a deranged video statement reiterating to his insurrectionist supporters that the election had been “stolen from us,” closing it by saying “we love you” and “you’re very special.” The implication remains the same—he is implying that they have been mistreated even as he meekly asked them to “go home in peace.”
Here is what he said:
I know your pain, I know you’re 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. We have to respect our great people in law and order. We don’t want anybody hurt. It’s a very tough period of time. There’s never been a time like this where such a thing happened, where they could take it away from all of us. From me, from you, from our country. This was a fraudulent election, but we can’t play into the hands of these people. We have to have peace. So go home. We love you, you’re very special, you’ve seen what happens, you’ve seen the way others are treated that are so bad and so evil. I know how you feel. But go home and go home in peace.
Twitter took the unprecedented step of blocking responses to this video message, adding a label saying “this Tweet can’t be replied to, Retweeted, or liked due to a risk of violence.” At this point, it is clear that is what Trump is continuing to provoke. He realizes nobody is coming to save him to overturn the election and the bevy of legal woes that await him when he is out of office, so he is inspiring destruction of U.S. institutions by his devoted followers.
There’s only one reasonable course of action for elected officials now. Once authorities have restored order, America’s legislative leaders should return to the Capitol and finish the vote count. They should do it without any further stunt objections based on lies about voter fraud that have only served to stoke this violence. Once that is done, there should be a snap impeachment vote in both chambers. (Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi’s office did not immediately respond to a question about whether there would be any such votes.) It is possible—and perhaps likely—that this impeachment will fail, as the last one did. But it will send a clear message to Trump as he leaves office: If you continue to stoke insurrection, there will be consequences.
Also, there is a slim chance it succeeds. Prior to Wednesday’s chaos, outgoing Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell gave an at-times powerful speech to his Republican colleagues calling for them to respect the will of the voters and the rule of law. “If this election were overturned by mere allegations from the losing side, our democracy would enter a death spiral,” he correctly stated. He knows his own political party is under attack from a president who spent at least as much of his speech on Wednesday going after “the weak Republicans”—including McConnell and Pence—as he did Democrats.
The GOP is Trump’s target now. They should unshackle themselves from this maniac who is going to attack them as weaklings and cowards no matter what they do, and join Democrats in impeaching the president. It is the only reasonable response to what happened at the Capitol today.