Senate, House endorse Arizona's electoral vote results after Capitol erupts in chaos
Rioters supportive of President Donald Trump violently stormed the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday halting Congress as it debated whether to accept Arizona's disputed electors.
The standoff lasted for hours and featured images of authorities drawing guns on the intruders and Trump supporters wandering through the inner office of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the dais where Vice President Mike Pence was presiding over the usually routine certification of electoral results.
Authorities used a gas to help disperse the crowd, and paramedics treated a woman for a gunshot wound amid the protesting. The woman later died.
Congress reconvened hours later and rejected challenges to electors in Arizona and Pennsylvania. The Senate overwhelmingly dismissed both challenges, while most House Republicans supported the ill-fated efforts.
In the Arizona challenge, the Senate voted 93-6 against the objection to certifying the state's electoral votes for President-elect Joe Biden. The House of Representatives voted it down as well, with nearly half of Republicans joining with Democrats to defeat the objection.
The unprecedented spectacle began unfolding shortly after the Senate and House went into their separate chambers to debate a challenge to Arizona's electoral results formally led by Rep. Paul Gosar, R-Ariz., and Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas.
As Gosar was detailing his request for a forensic audit of the state's election results, authorities began evacuating members from the House floor.
The Senate sheltered its members in place shortly after Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., defended the state's election integrity and as Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla., was speaking.
The challenge to the state's electors forced a debate in both chambers of Congress over certifying Biden’s victory in November.
Eventually, all 11 members of Arizona's congressional delegation safely sheltered from the protests playing out across the Capitol. The challenge to Arizona, and several other states, was expected, but the confrontational response from Trump supporters seemed to catch law enforcement flat-footed.
Both of Arizona’s Democratic senators, Sinema and Mark Kelly, were expected to oppose the challenge along with most of the GOP-controlled Senate.
It is unclear when Congress will resume its joint session to certify the electors and Biden's win.
"I call on this mob to pull back and allow the work of democracy to go forward," Biden said Wednesday afternoon.
The objection to Biden’s win is almost sure to fail given Democrats’ control of the House of Representatives and the makeup of the GOP, where only a dozen or so members have signed onto the effort, sure to fuel the unfounded notion that the election was stolen from President Donald Trump.
Gosar, one of Trump’s most ardent supporters throughout his presidency, objected to Arizona’s election results when the state's electoral votes came up at the joint session on Wednesday. They also could join the effort to dismiss other states contested by Trump when the session resumes.
After the Capitol was locked down, Gosar said he didn't want anyone to get hurt.
"Ok," he wrote on Twitter. "I said let's do an audit. Let's not get carried away here. I don't want anyone hurt. We are protesting the violation of our laws. We are builders not destroyers. BLM burns and loots. We build. If anyone on the ground reads this and is beyond the line come back."
In a later tweet, Gosar seemed to blame the violence on Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs for resisting his calls for an investigation of the state's election process. His allegations have paralleled claims of fraud dismissed in courts across the country as baseless and by election and governmental officials from both parties.
"Is (Hobbs) satisfied with her obstructionism now? For weeks the people have demanded transparency. Instead they got lies and cover up," he wrote.
Rep. Andy Biggs, R-Ariz., also supports the objection to counting Arizona's electoral votes. Two other Republicans among Arizona’s nine House members — Reps. Debbie Lesko and David Schweikert — didn’t indicate how they intend to vote in a matter seen as a mark of loyalty to Trump, who has for months maintained without credible evidence that the election was stolen from him.
“The congressman is asking the vice president to remand the electors back to Arizona pending a full forensic audit of the Maricopa County tabulations,” said Tom Van Flein, Gosar’s chief of staff.
“Congressman Gosar has received evidence submitted from (state Rep. Mark Finchem, R-Oro Valley) and other state legislators, a full security briefing by two teams of cyber data analysts, and based on the undisputed evidence of likely ballot manipulation, insists there be a forensic audit.”
Biggs, who heads the conservative House Freedom Caucus that has long provided support for Trump, previously has said he would object. “I will stand for election integrity. I will fight for the American people,” he said.
The joint session, presided over by Pence, had been expected to stretch well into the night with the results of at least three states expected to draw objections and debate.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., kicked off the debate on the Senate floor, speaking aggressively against objections to Arizona’s electors and imploring colleagues to defend the Constitution.
McConnell said the challenge, if successful, would send democracy into a “death spiral” and send Congress into a “scramble for power at any cost.”
The Electoral College, which most senators have defended for years, “would cease to exist, leaving many of our states with no real say at all in choosing a president,” he said.
Cruz, one of the objectors, made Americans’ eroding faith in the democratic process as the cornerstone of his argument. He said establishing an election commission to conduct a 10-day audit and resolve any claims of impropriety would help restore faith in the process. Courts across the nation have already rejected those claims.
Shortly before the debate abruptly stopped, Sinema rose to speak. She defended Arizona's electoral process and said the challenge "fails any factual analysis." She said it seeks to rob voters of their constitutional right to elect their leaders.
“Those of us who are trusted with elected office are, first and foremost, public servants,” she said. “Our system allows for a continuous contest of ideas — and those voters who support the losing side of a free, fair election have not been disenfranchised. Rather, they maintain just as important a voice in America’s future — and leaders have a duty to serve all of our constituents, including those who voted for other candidates."
Kelly, who is new to the Senate, appeared on the same 2020 ballot as Trump and was sworn into office by Pence on the floor of the Senate a month ago. Pence and Republicans mounted no effort to try to invalidate or sow doubt in the public psyche about Kelly’s victory over formerSen. Martha McSally, R-Ariz., as they are doing now with the office of the presidency.
Kelly was expected to share his views of the challenge in some form on Wednesday before the Senate went into lockdown. Ahead of the debate, Kelly said during an interview on "Today" that aired Wednesday morning that it was unfortunate Republicans were contesting Biden's win.
“The states have certified these elections — some more close, but that’s often, often the case," he said. "But it’s very clear that we have a new president being inaugurated in just a couple of weeks, a new vice president.”
Kelly said the effort has the potential to set a precedent that Congress should be involved in determining the outcomes of presidential races.
“That is not how our system is set up,” he said. “Voters should decide who the next president is. States should certify elections. It does highlight that we are at a divided time on one hand, but let me also say I’ve spent a month in the United States Senate now and there’s optimism from both sides of the aisle about trying to get to a better place.”
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Before the Capitol went into lockdown, two other Arizona members of the House addressed the objection to the state’s electors.
Rep. Raúl Grijalva, D-Ariz., urged his House colleagues to reject the arguments about Arizona’s elections, saying it was part of “fringe conspiracy theories.”
Republican and Democratic officials said the state’s elections were properly administered, Grijalva said, noting those challenging the presidential results don’t question their own victories in the same election.
“Our colleagues may say they are only asking questions and seeking to reassure voters. But let us be clear, these questions have been answered by the voters and by the courts,” Grijalva said. “Rather than accepting the answers and the results of the election, they are fanning the flames of unfounded suspicions.”
The day before the pro-Trump force stormed the U.S. Capitol, Bruce Oppenheimer, professor of political science at Vanderbilt University and a longtime observer of Congress, said it was the goal of the GOP objectors to get attention.
“The people who have to speak up are the Republicans,” he said. “They’re the ones who are putting on the show. The Democrats are not questioning the legitimacy of the electoral vote. In part, not saying anything other than letting your leadership speak out is, how much legitimacy do you want to give these clowns? Part of it is you don’t want to give them any more attention.”
The state’s other two Republicans, Lesko and Schweikert, did not clarify their position after a request from The Arizona Republic.
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Lesko, who was among the 100 House members who joined a suit last month brought by the state of Texas seeking to throw out the results in four other states, didn’t indicate her view on the challenges.
“As Congress counts the Electoral College votes from the states tomorrow, I intend to listen diligently to debate and the arguments presented on objections and determine their validity and constitutionality on a state by state basis,” she said.
Schweikert’s office did not respond.
All five of Arizona’s House Democrats, Reps. Ruben Gallego, Grijalva, Ann Kirkpatrick, Tom O’Halleran and Greg Stanton, are expected to support certifying Arizona and the other states.
Biden won in the Electoral College 306-232. He won the national popular vote by more than 7 million votes. Arizona had the closest vote in the country, with Biden winning by a scant 10,457 votes.
For Gallego, certifying is not a hard call.
“Joe Biden won the election. That’s a cold hard fact and Republicans know it,” he said. “Any attempt to overturn the clear will of the American people by challenging the Electoral College results is a dangerous attack on our democracy and is doomed to fail.”
Stanton "is prepared to give a full-throated defense of Arizona’s election results," spokesperson Nicole Pasteur said.
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Kirkpatrick said the challenges pander to “conspiracy theories” and waste time.
“Our election will be certified and we will usher in the Biden-Harris administration,” Kirkpatrick said. “Any challenge to this certification creates a dangerous precedent. The American people have spoken and they have spoken loudly — the historic turnout for Joe Biden and Kamala Harris reflects that. Republicans’ refusal to abandon these wild conspiracy theories and baseless claims of voter fraud is disturbing, and worse, undermines faith in our democracy. The time and taxpayer dollars spent trying to overturn this election have far better uses — an obvious one is serving the American people through this national health crisis.”
O’Halleran, as he did last year in evaluating the impeachment case against Trump, in a written statement cited his background as a former Chicago police officer.
“As a former law enforcement officer and homicide detective, my job was to follow the facts, develop a case, and make decisions and recommendations based on where those facts led me,” he said. “Arizona’s elected and appointed officials, including our Republican Governor and Attorney General, worked to follow the facts and certify the winner of Arizona’s eleven electoral votes as Joe Biden.
“I know that many of us may disagree on our preference for president, but what we personally prefer is not what matters here. Rather, the people’s preference, as reflected in the certified Electoral College results, is what matters. The election is over, and we cannot disagree on the facts. Tomorrow, I will join my colleagues to speak on the House Floor in affirming Arizona’s certified election results and our democratic process.”
Reach the reporter Ronald J. Hansen at email@example.com or 602-444-4493. Follow him on Twitter @ronaldjhansen.
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