WASHINGTON – A violent mob loyal to President Donald Trump stormed the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday and forced lawmakers into hiding in a stunning attempt to overturn America’s presidential election, undercut the nation’s democracy and keep Democrat Joe Biden from replacing Trump in the White House.
The nation’s elected representatives scrambled to crouch under desks and don gas marks while police futilely tried to barricade the building, one of the most jarring scenes ever to unfold in a seat of American political power.
A woman was shot and killed inside the Capitol, and Washington’s mayor instituted an evening curfew in an attempt to contain the violence.
The rioters were egged on by Trump, who has spent weeks attacking the integrity of the election and had urged his supporters to descend on Washington to protest Congress’ formal approval of Biden’s victory. Some Republican lawmakers were in the midst of raising objections to the results on his behalf when the proceedings were halted by the mob.
The protests amounted to an almost unthinkable challenge to American democracy and exposed the depths of the divisions that have coursed through the country. Though the efforts to block Biden from being sworn in Jan. 20 were sure to fail, the support Trump has received for his efforts to overturn the election results have badly strained the nation’s democratic guardrails.
Congress reconvened in the evening, senators decrying the protests that defaced the Capitol and vowing to finish confirming the Electoral College vote for Biden’s election, even if it took all night.
Vice President Mike Pence, reopening the Senate, directly addressed the demonstrators: “You did not win.”
The president gave his supporters a boost into action Wednesday morning at a rally outside the White House, where he urged them to march to the Capitol. He spent much of the afternoon in his private dining room off the Oval Office watching scenes of the violence on television. At the urging of his staff, he issued a pair of tweets and a taped video telling his supporters it was time to “go home in peace” – yet he still said he backed their cause.
Hours later, Twitter for the first time locked Trump’s account, demanded that he remove tweets excusing violence and threatened permanent suspension.
Biden, two weeks away from being inaugurated, said American democracy was “under unprecedented assault,” a sentiment echoed by many in Congress, including some Republicans. Former President George W. Bush said he watched the events in “disbelief and dismay.”
The domed Capitol building has for centuries been the scene of protests and occasional violence. But Wednesday’s events were particularly astounding both because they unfolded at least initially with the implicit blessing of the president and because of the underlying goal of overturning the results of a free and fair presidential election.
Tensions were already running high when lawmakers gathered Wednesday afternoon for the constitutionally mandated counting of the Electoral College results, in which Biden defeated Trump, 306-232. Despite pleas from Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, more than 150 GOP lawmakers had planned to support objections to some of the results.
Trump spent the lead-up to the proceedings publicly hectoring Pence, who had a largely ceremonial role in the proceedings, to aid the effort. He tweeted Wednesday: “Do it Mike, this is a time for extreme courage!”
But Pence, in a statement shortly before presiding, defied Trump, saying he could not claim “unilateral authority” to reject the electoral votes that make Biden president.
In the aftermath, several Republicans said they would drop their objections to the election, including Sen. Kelly Loeffler, R-Ga., who lost her bid for reelection Tuesday. She called the siege of the Capitol “abhorrent.”
Shortly after the first GOP objections, protesters fought past police and breached the building, shouting and waving Trump and American flags as they marched through the halls. Lawmakers were told to duck under their seats for cover and put on gas masks after tear gas was used in the Capitol Rotunda. Some House lawmakers tweeted they were sheltering in place in their offices.
Rep. Scott Peters, D-Calif., told reporters he was in the House chamber when rioters began storming it. Security officers “made us all get down, you could see that they were fending off some sort of assault.”
He said they had a piece of furniture up against the door, the entry to the House floor from the Rotunda. “And they had guns pulled,” Peters said.
“And they just told us to take our pins off,” he added, referring to lapel pins members wear so Capitol Police can quickly identify them. Then the lawmakers were evacuated.
Staff members grabbed the boxes of Electoral College votes as the evacuation took place. Otherwise, said Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., the ballots likely would have been destroyed by the protesters.
Trump supporters posting on internet forums popular with far-right fringe elements celebrated the chaos. Messages posted on one turned from profane frustration over the content of Trump’s speech to glee when supporters stormed the building.
The mob’s storming of Congress prompted outrage as lawmakers accused Trump of fomenting the violence with his claims about election fraud. Several suggested that Trump be prosecuted for a crime, which seemed unlikely two weeks from when his term expires.
“I think Donald Trump probably should be brought up on treason for something like this,” Rep. Jimmy Gomez, D-Calif., told reporters. “This is how a coup is started. And this is how democracy dies.”
Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., who’s at times clashed with Trump, issued a statement saying, “Lies have consequences. This violence was the inevitable and ugly outcome of the president’s addiction to constantly stoking division.”
Despite Trump’s repeated claims of voter fraud, election officials and his own former attorney general have said there were no problems on a scale that would change the outcome. All the states have certified their results as fair and accurate, by Republican and Democratic officials alike.
The Pentagon said about 1,100 District of Columbia National Guard members were being mobilized to help support law enforcement at the Capitol. More than a dozen people were arrested.
As darkness fell, law enforcement officers worked their way toward the protesters, using percussion grenades to clear the area around the Capitol. Big clouds of tear gas were visible. Police in full riot gear moved down the steps, clashing with demonstrators.
Demolition of Western Kentucky University’s Barnes-Campbell Hall began Wednesday as the towering arm of a crane reached up to take the first bite out of the dorm that housed about 380 students and dates to 1966.
The 90-day demolition project will clear the way for a new greenspace that campus administrators hope will mirror WKU’s South Lawn and become the centerpiece of the in-progress first-year village at the south end of campus.
Mike Reagle, executive director of WKU’s housing and dining division, said it’s the last key step before the opening of two new residence halls in August.
“What we’re trying to do is kind of replicate some of what we are able to do on the South Lawn for the residential students in that area,” Reagle told the Daily News, adding the idea is to create a place for students to “throw a football” or “spread out a blanket and study.”
WKU’s first-year village will encompass all the current residence halls at the south end of campus and two new halls – Normal Hall and Regents Hall. Both dormitories are crucial elements of WKU’s 10-year strategic plan, which aims to boost the university’s first-to-second-year retention rate with a captivating first-year experience that entices freshmen to stay on the Hill.
The vehicle for that is a living-learning community model. Students with similar majors or interests live together on a residence hall floor with regular activities designed to be relevant to their studies or build community. Under WKU’s strategic plan, each WKU freshman will get to join a living-learning community.
Both residence halls will feature “pod-style” housing, meaning that about 25 students will share spaces such as a common area, two community bathrooms, one private bathroom and a kitchen. Other key features include faculty-in-residence, study rooms, classrooms, a dining location and music practice and recording studios.
Once Barnes-Campbell is out of the way, workers will have a three-month window to begin work on the greenspace. Along with plenty of greenery, Reagle said administrators are also considering the possibility of adding infrastructure for an outdoor concert venue.
The first-year village project aims to get at “How do we do a better job of educating first-year students and attracting first-year students and giving them the true Western experience?” Reagle said.
It’s a key question that WKU isn’t alone in confronting.
Even before the coronavirus pandemic, colleges and universities across the country had a big problem on their hands – declining enrollment. In 2019, data from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center showed a decline in fall enrollments for the eighth consecutive year.
Kentucky bucked that trend, with fall 2019 enrollment up by 1.5%, or 243,299 students compared to the 239,774 students the previous fall, according to the report. However, the jump was driven by growth at private colleges and by a sharp uptick in high school students taking dual-credit courses at public institutions through Kentucky’s Dual Credit Scholarship.
The big picture is the dwindling pipeline of college-going high school graduates in Kentucky. Though Kentucky’s high school graduation rate remains sky-high, at more than 90%, there are simply fewer college-going graduates to recruit.
It’s a national trend, with colleges engaged in an amenities arms race to draw students to their campuses.
The Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education recently published the latest projections for high school graduates out to 2037. At the national level, the report said, high school graduates are projected to peak in number by the mid-2020s before a period of modest decline through the end of the projections.
What’s more, increased diversification of graduating classes will be an enduring trend, the Western Interstate Commission projects.
Because of that, WKU is stepping up efforts to recruit outside the state and to make the campus more welcoming for minority students. Most recently, WKU rolled out its “Hilltopper Guarantee.” Starting next fall, attendance at WKU will be tuition-free to any college freshman from Kentucky receiving Pell Grant assistance and with at least a 3.0 unweighted high school grade-point average.
For Reagle, the first-year village project is more than just a greenspace with two new residence halls and lots of glossy features: “It’s about connecting students from across those buildings and connecting them into academic programs,” he said.
– Follow education reporter Aaron Mudd on Twitter @NewsByAaron or visit bgdailynews.com.
ATLANTA – Democrats won Georgia’s U.S. Senate seats – and with them, the Senate majority – as final votes were counted Wednesday, handing President Donald Trump a stunning defeat in his final days in office while dramatically improving the fate of President-elect Joe Biden’s progressive agenda.
Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock, Democratic challengers who represented the diversity of their party’s evolving coalition, defeated Republicans David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler two months after Biden became the first Democratic presidential candidate to carry the state since 1992.
Warnock, who served as pastor for the same Atlanta church where civil rights leader the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. preached, becomes the first African American from Georgia elected to the Senate. And Ossoff becomes the state’s first Jewish senator and, at 33 years old, the Senate’s youngest member.
This week’s elections were expected to mark the formal finale to the 2020 election season, although the Democrats’ resounding success was overshadowed by chaos and violence in Washington.
Still, the Democrats’ twin victories in Georgia represented a striking shift in the state’s politics as the swelling number of diverse, college-educated voters flex their power in the heart of the Deep South. They also cemented the transformation of Georgia, once a solidly Republican state, into one of the nation’s premier battlegrounds for the foreseeable future.
In an emotional address Wednesday, Warnock vowed to work for all Georgians whether they voted for him or not, citing his personal experience with the American dream. His mother, he said, used to pick “somebody else’s cotton” as a teenager.
“The other day, because this is America, the 82-year-old hands that used to pick somebody else’s cotton picked her youngest son to be a United States senator,” he said. “Tonight, we proved with hope, hard work and the people by our side, anything is possible.”
Loeffler, who remains a senator until the results of Tuesday’s election are finalized, returned to Washington on Wednesday to join a small group of senators planning to challenge Congress’ vote to certify Biden’s victory. She didn’t get a chance to vocalize her objection before the violent protesters stormed the Capitol.
Georgia’s other runoff election pitted Perdue, a 71-year-old former business executive who held his Senate seat until his term expired Sunday, against Ossoff, a former congressional aide and journalist.
“This campaign has been about health and jobs and justice for the people of this state – for all the people of this state,” Ossoff said in a speech broadcast on social media Wednesday. “Whether you were for me, or against me, I’ll be for you in the U.S. Senate. I will serve all the people of the state.”
Trump’s claims of voter fraud cast a dark shadow over the runoff elections, which were held only because no candidate hit the 50% threshold in the general election. He raised the prospect of voter fraud as votes were being cast and likened the Republicans who run Georgia’s election system to “chickens with their heads cut off” during a Wednesday rally in Washington.
Gabriel Sterling, a top official with the Georgia secretary of state’s office and a Republican, said there was “no evidence of any irregularities.”
“The biggest thing we’ve seen is from the president’s fertile mind of finding fraud where none exists,” he said.
Both contests tested whether the political coalition that fueled Biden’s November victory was an anti-Trump anomaly or part of a new electoral landscape. To win in Tuesday’s elections – and in the future – Democrats needed strong African American support.
AP VoteCast, a survey of more than 3,700 voters in Tuesday’s contests, found that Black voters made up roughly 30% of the electorate, and almost all of them – 94% – backed Ossoff and Warnock. The Democrats also relied on the backing of younger voters, people earning less than $50,000 annually and newcomers to the state.
The Republican coalition backing Loeffler and Perdue was the mirror opposite: white, older, wealthier and longtime Georgia residents.
The coalition closely resembles the one that narrowly handed Georgia’s Electoral College votes to Biden in November, making him the first Democratic presidential candidate to win the state in almost three decades.
Trump’s claims about voter fraud in the 2020 election resonated with Republican voters in Georgia. About seven in 10 agreed with his assertion that Biden was not the legitimately elected president, AP VoteCast found.
Election officials across the country, including the Republican governors in Arizona and Georgia, as well as Trump’s former attorney general, William Barr, have said there was no widespread fraud in the November election. Nearly all the legal challenges from Trump and his allies have been dismissed by judges, including two tossed by the Supreme Court.
Publicly and privately, some Republicans acknowledged that Trump’s monthslong push to undermine the integrity of the nation’s electoral system may have contributed to the GOP’s losses in Georgia.
“It turns out that telling the voters that the election was rigged is not a great way to turn out your voters,” said Utah Sen. Mitt Romney, a Republican and a frequent Trump critic.
Even with Trump’s claims, voters in both parties were drawn to the polls because of the high stakes. AP VoteCast found that six in 10 Georgia voters say Senate party control was the most important factor in their vote.
Turnout exceeded both sides’ expectations. Ultimately, more people cast ballots in the runoffs than voted in Georgia’s 2016 presidential election.
Former President Barack Obama, the nation’s first Black president, issued a statement praising the election of Georgia’s first African American senator and his ability to improve divisions in Washington.
“Georgia’s first Black senator will make the (Senate) chamber more reflective of our country as a whole and open the door for a Congress that can forego gridlock for gridlock’s sake to focus instead on the many crises facing our nation,” Obama said.