The usually routine congressional process of certifying the final results of a presidential election was disrupted Wednesday by a riot that drove lawmakers off the floor to seek shelter as hundreds of President Donald Trump's supporters ransacked the U.S. Capitol.
But that only delayed the inevitable conclusion. Joe Biden has been confirmed as the president-elect of the United States.
Even before the protest-turned-riot that interrupted the proceedings for more than six hours, an attempt to block certification of the results was more about appeasing Trump's bruised ego than anything else. Only a handful of Republicans—led by Sen. Ted Cruz (R–Texas) and Sen. Josh Hawley (R–Mo.)—supported the effort.
Trump collected the first 12 electoral votes—nine from Alabama, three from Alaska—before the first objection, to Arizona's results, disrupted the process. After lawmakers adjourned to their respective chambers to debate the objection in the afternoon, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R–Ky.) encouraged his members to drop their doomed bid to overturn the election.
"We cannot simply declare ourselves a national board of elections on steroids. The voters, the states, and the courts have all spoken. If we overrule them, it would damage our republic forever," McConnell said. "I will not pretend that such a vote would be a harmless protest measure while relying on other people to do the right thing."
Then a far greater disruption occurred. Vice President Mike Pence was hustled out of the Senate by security, and both chambers abruptly entered recess as rioters crashed through windows and doors around the Capitol. Trump supporters raided offices and looted public spaces. One woman was shot and killed by Capitol police outside the House chamber. It was a wild, unprecedented, and embarrassing afternoon for a nation that holds itself out as a shining example of democracy.
It was a little after 8 p.m. when the House and Senate finally reconvened. "This is still the people's house. and as we reconvene in this chamber, the world will again witness the resilience and strength of our democracy," Pence said as the Senate resumed. "Let's get back to work."
Trump and some of his supporters had pushed a false theory that Pence had the sole authority to accept or reject the Electoral College votes certified by the states. But the vice president rejected that idea—reportedly angering Trump in the process.
In a session that stretched late into the evening, senators and members of the House debated the Arizona objection. In the end, only six members of the Senate voted to support the objection, while 122 Republicans in the House did. The effort failed, and a later objection to Pennsylvania's election results was similarly defeated. Hawley, Cruz, and other Republicans dropped plans to object to the vote count in Georgia, Michigan, Nevada, and Wisconsin.
What was supposed to be a routine, largely ceremonial procedure finally concluded in the early hours of Thursday morning. As expected, Biden won 306 votes and Trump won 232 votes when the alphabetical reading of the states' Electoral College votes was concluded.
The chaos that Trump helped spark and the final defeat of the president's nonsensical bid to overturn the election turned January 6, 2021, into a day that won't be forgotten soon. But the day's events are more evidence for the resilience of America's political institutions, which have been much-tested during the Trump years. Wednesday was an unprecedented challenge to the constitutional process that helps ensure a peaceful transfer of power. Trump lost, again.
"We gather today due to a selfish man's injured pride, and the outrage of his supporters whom he has deliberately misinformed for the past two months and stirred to action this very morning," Sen. Mitt Romney (R–Utah) said during a fiery speech on Wednesday evening in which he condemned members of his own party for spreading lies that put the president's self-interest ahead of the nation.
"The best way we can show respect for the voters who were upset is by telling them the truth," Romney said. "President Trump lost."