Unrest Rocks Washington

The typically staid transfer of power in Washington was subjected to a historic disruption by a series of bomb threats, violent protests outside the Capitol, and the storming of the legislative chamber as Congress attempted to ratify Joe Biden’s victory some two months ago. Although the protests were quickly cleared, and the ratification ultimately completed, the event stands as testimony to the deep divides afflicting Washington and highlighted the outlines of an incipient schism within the Republican party.

DEMOCRATS DENOUNCE PROTESTERS

Shortly after pro-Trump protesters stormed Congress in an attempt to interrupt the ratification of Biden’s victory, Democrats united in denouncing the effort and laying blame squarely on President Trump’s shoulders. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi issued a statement saying, “Today’s shameful assault on our democracy — anointed at the highest level of government — must not deter us from our responsibility to the Constitution. Tonight, we will move forward with the certification of President-elect Joe Biden’s election.”

In the Senate, soon-to-be Majority Leader Senator Schumer denounced the protesters, saying “This will be a stain on our country, not so easily washed away.” Schumer described the mobilization on the Capitol “the final terrible, indelible legacy of the 45th president of the United States,” asserting that it “did not happen spontaneously” but at the instigation of President Trump. “This temple to democracy was desecrated, it’s windows smashed, our offices vandalized,” Schumer added, claiming the violence would stand as the President’s “ever-lasting shame.”

Moving to meet the moment, President-elect Biden gave an ad hoc television address where he said that “At this hour our democracy is under unprecedented assault unlike anything we’ve seen in modern times,” calling the protesters on the Capitol steps “an assault on the rule of law like few times we have ever seen it.” Returning to a tried campaign theme of restoring trans-partisan unity, Biden added that “the scenes of chaos at the Capitol do not reflect a true America, do not represent who we are.” He concluded by challenging President Trump to “go on national television now” to “demand an end to this siege,” noting that “At their best the words of a president can inspire, at their worst they can incite.”

REPUBLICANS SHOW INCREASING DISTANCE FROM PRESIDENT TRUMP 

For their part, the display appears to have instigated the first substantive divides between Congressional Republican leadership and the White House. Senator Lindsey Graham, one of President Trump’s staunchest supporters in the Senate, said: “I could not agree more with President-elect Biden’s statement to the nation. [It is] time to retake the Capitol, end the violence, and stop the madness. Time to move forward in governing our nation.  Our differences are real but the love of our nation overwhelms our differences.”

For his part, without denouncing the President by name, Senator McConnell castigated the "sweeping conspiracy theories" which have led many of President Trump’s supporters to believe the election was lost as a result of widespread election fraud. He added: “Congress will either override the voters, overrule them — the voters, the states, and the courts — for the first time ever, or honor the people's decision. We'll either guarantee Democrats' delegitimizing efforts of 2016 become a permanent new routine for both sides, or declare that our nation deserves a lot better than this.”

Most scathing of all was Senator Mitt Romney, whose outsized stature in the body has only grown in recent months. In a caustic statement, Romney lay blame for the violence directly at the President’s door, saying: “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. What happened here today was an insurrection, incited by the President of the United States. Those who choose to continue to support his dangerous gambit by objecting to the results of a legitimate, democratic election will forever be seen as being complicit in an unprecedented attack against our democracy.”