April 12, 2021

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The Daily 202: Congress certifies Biden’s win, but the ordeal reveals fragility in the American system

19 min read

It would be easy to pound out the sorts of platitudes that Gerald Ford reassured anxious Americans with when he replaced the disgraced Richard Nixon in 1974: “My fellow Americans, our long national nightmare is over. Our Constitution works; our great Republic is a government of laws and not of men. Here the people rule.”

But proffering a feel-good narrative would not reflect the vulnerability that so many felt on Wednesday as the temple of American self-government was desecrated by insurrectionists who were intent on overturning the results of a free and fair election – at the encouragement of a sitting president refusing to admit defeat. This ordeal left a lot of elected officials, retired military leaders and former presidents from both parties feeling like something is rotten in the United States of America.

Congress finished counting the electoral votes and Vice President Pence declared Joe Biden the president-elect during a joint session of Congress on Jan. 7. (The Washington Post)

The storming of our Capitol on Wednesday drew comparisons to violent breaches in developing countries like Armenia and Serbia. Canisters of tear gas were fired across the Rotunda’s white marble floor. A woman was fatally shot by police near the entrance to the House gallery. 

The last time an invading force took control of our Capitol was Aug. 24, 1814, when invading British troops set fire to the building. Only a torrential rainstorm, seen as providential, saved the structure. 

Moreover, the majority of House Republicans – including Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (Calif.) and his No. 2 Steve Scalise (La.) – voted to invalidate electoral votes that Biden won fair and square, as did eight Senate Republicans. This is a reflection of the degree to which the GOP has undergone significant radicalization over the past decade – with Trump the symptom as much as the cause – that has left a significant faction of its adherents seemingly less than fully committed to the cause of democracy.

The raw emotions of the moment nearly led to a physical confrontation on the House floor early this morning. Rep. Conor Lamb (D-Pa.) accused Republicans of peddling “lies” about election fraud in his state. GOP members responded angrily. An exchange of words between Republicans and Democrats sitting behind Lamb seemed like it might be headed toward blows until aides intervened and Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) gaveled the chamber to order.

Meanwhile, Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) was booed for trying to claim that members of antifa had secretly infiltrated the Trump mob. Then Gaetz added that he did not know “if the reports are true.” Across social media and pro-Trump TV channels, right-wing figures are starting to peddle similar disinformation.

Lawmakers nearly came to a physical altercation on the House floor on Jan. 7 after Rep. Conor Lamb (D-Pa.) said a pro-Trump mob materialized from GOP lies. (The Washington Post)

The ‘American carnage’ that Donald Trump vowed to end at the dawn of his presidency was revived in terrifying, treacherous form at its sunset Wednesday, as Trump made a fiery last stand and incited his supporters to storm and sack the U.S. Capitol as part of an attempted coup,” writes Philip Rucker. “The marauders freely roamed the building’s stately halls, some carrying Confederate flags. They occupied the Senate and House chambers and rummaged through desks. They vandalized the offices of congressional leaders. They assaulted police and other public servants. They trampled on the gleaming white platform constructed for [Biden’s] inauguration. One tried to replace the U.S. flag flying above the balcony with a Trump campaign flag. Lawmakers and staffers hid in locked bunkers. … With Wednesday’s occupation underway, Trump’s eldest daughter, Ivanka, tweeted that the rioters were ‘American Patriots’ and urged them to be ‘peaceful.’”

A disastrous failure of security allowed the storming of the Capitol, in which a heavily guarded symbol of American strength fell to chaos with stunning speed. “In a city on high alert, in a building with its own 2,000-officer police department, people forced their way into the sanctums of American democracy with nothing more than flagpoles, riot shields and shoves. Nobody stopped them — and some officers were captured on video appearing to stand back as rioters streamed inside,” Carol Leonnig, Aaron Davis, Dan Lamothe and David Fahrenthold report.

“Law enforcement experts said they were mystified by the tactics that police used once the mob was already inside the Capitol. … One image posted on social media showed an officer taking a selfie with one of the intruders, and a video seemed to show officers opening the security fence to let Trump supporters closer. Police did not appear to try to detain the rioters, allowing them to leave unhindered. One even held a woman’s hand to steady her on the Capitol steps. … It was not until about 7 p.m., roughly five hours after the breach, that the Capitol was cleared and members of Congress returned to their chambers — escorted by heavily armed FBI agents and police in riot gear.”

“It’s like watching a real-life horror movie. I mean, we train and plan and budget every day, basically, to have this not happen,” said Kim Dine, who was chief of the Capitol Police from 2012 to 2016. “How it happened, I can’t figure that out.”

On the day Congress was set to confirm that President-elect Joe Biden won the election, a pro-Trump mob stormed the Capitol building. Here’s how it happened. (The Washington Post)

The woman shot dead by Capitol Police was identified as 35-year-old Ashli Babbitt, a California native and Air Force veteran. Before her death, she used her social media accounts to express fervent support for Trump and echo many of the president’s favorite conspiracy theories. Authorities said she was shot after jumping onto a windowpane inside the Capitol and died later in the day. (Jaclyn Peiser and Justin Jouvenal)

Federal agents are also investigating a pickup truck found with weapons, ammunition and potential bombmaking material parked outside the Republican National Committee. The truck, parked across the street from the party offices and near the entrance to a Metro station, contained rifles and shotguns and a mass of ammunition. Federal agents were still trying to determine whether that vehicle and its contents are connected to suspected pipe bombs found earlier in the day outside both the RNC and Democratic National Committee headquarters, per Rebecca Tan, Peter Jamison, Leonnig, Meagan Flynn and John Woodrow Cox.

The Pentagon had to scramble to deploy more than a thousand National Guard forces to help protect the Capitol on Wednesday night after they remained on the sidelines during the early hours of the crisis. It was a stark contrast to the military’s role in protests for racial justice in June, when National Guard helicopters flew perilously low over crowds of demonstrators, front-line forces massed near the city, and Pentagon leaders were criticized for appearing to support Trump’s heavy-handed response. (Paul Sonne, Dan Lamothe, Missy Ryan and Alex Horton)

  • Derrick Evans, a newly elected GOP member of West Virginia’s House of Delegates, was among the rioters. He live-streamed – and then deleted – videos from inside the Capitol. (WV MetroNews)
  • Jake Angeli, a longtime QAnon supporter and a fixture of Arizona right-wing rallies over the last year, was photographed storming the Capitol and sitting on the Senate dais wearing fur, a horned hat and a painted face. (Arizona Republic)
  • Richard Barnett, of Northwest Arkansas, is the man photographed sitting behind a desk in Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office. He told 5News that he left her a note, which said “Nancy, Bigo was here, you B****.”
  • Activists contrasted the generally kid glove treatment of the pro-Trump mob with the strong-arm police tactics used against Black Lives Matter protesters. (Robert Klemko, Kimberly Kindy, Kim Bellware and Derek Hawkins)
  • Our reporting, visuals and graphics teams put together a detailed reconstruction of how rioters stormed into the building.

Hundreds of people also gathered in state capitals nationwide to challenge the legitimacy of Biden’s victory. “Most of them didn’t wear masks amid the coronavirus pandemic, and some carried guns in places like Oklahoma, Georgia, Arizona, Nevada and Washington state,” the Associated Press reports. “There were some scuffles in states like Ohio and California, with some instances of journalists or counterprotesters being pepper-sprayed or punched, but most demonstrations were peaceful — some of them quite small — and only a few arrests were reported. … 

News that protesters had breached the U.S. Capitol set off cheers at pro-Trump protests in Minnesota, Nevada and Arizona, where armed protesters marched at the Capitol in Phoenix and several men displayed a guillotine. Georgia’s secretary of state and his staff evacuated their offices at the Capitol as about 100 protesters gathered outside, some armed with long guns. … In Utah, the staff of Gov. Spencer Cox was sent home as several hundred people gathered in Salt Lake City … Salt Lake Tribune photographer Rick Egan said he was pepper-sprayed by a demonstrator who taunted him for wearing a mask and shoved him as he was shooting video of the protest. … At least one person was arrested at the Oregon Capitol in Salem on suspicion of harassment and disorderly conduct as police in riot gear tried to get people — many of them armed — to leave.”

In the other Washington, after a rally in front of the state Capitol in Olympia, dozens of Trump supporters were able to open a door in a driveway gate and stream up to the front of Gov. Jay Inslee’s mansion, where they chanted slogans as law enforcement stood guard on the front porch, the Seattle Times reports. “‘Whose house — our house’ some chanted, and one man planted a big red and white sign that declared, ‘Trump won 2020.’ Some of the protesters were armed. The roughly half-hour standoff with law enforcement ended as the group decided to leave the grounds rather than risk arrest.”

From Beijing to Moscow, this was a propaganda coup for our adversaries. “Nationalistic Chinese state-run tabloid the Global Times took the opportunity to bash U.S. politicians for having supported Hong Kong pro-democracy protesters who had stormed the city’s legislature in 2019,” Paul Schemm and Erin Cunningham report. “Konstantin Kosachev, chairman of the foreign affairs committee in the Federation Council, the upper house of Russia’s parliament, said American democracy was ‘obviously limping on both feet.’ ‘America no longer charts the course, and therefore has lost all right to set it. And even more to impose on others,’ he said. … 

“The breakdown in order at the heart of U.S. political institutions also allowed for the surreal situation of countries with poor democratic records and authoritarian traditions to call for calm and peaceful resolutions to the conflict, including Turkey, which urged ‘restraint and common sense.’ Venezuela, which has been in the midst of a severe political crisis for years and is antagonistic to the United States, condemned the ‘political polarization and spiral of violence’ in the country. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said in remarks Thursday that ‘what happened in the United States showed how weak Western democracy is.’”

Even our closest allies were unnerved. Germany’s Foreign Minister Heiko Maas tweeted that “the enemies of democracy will be thrilled to see these unbelievable pictures” from Washington as he made a chilling analogy. “Riotous words turn into violent acts — on the steps of the Reichstag, and now in the Capitol,” Maas wrote. “The disdain for democratic institutions is devastating.”

On the home front, a chorus of prominent leaders said politicians other than Trump also deserve blame for weakening public confidence. James Mattis, the president’s first defense secretary, said Trump “fomented” the violent assault. “His use of the Presidency to destroy trust in our election and to poison our respect for fellow citizens has been enabled by pseudo political leaders whose names will live in infamy as profiles in cowardice,” he said in a statement.

Vice President Pence and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) defied Trump on Wednesday, but their fleeting crumbs of courage came four years too latewrites Ashley Parker. “The Republican Party’s bargain with Trump, writ large, has involved indulging the president’s whims and anti-democratic passions in return for the promise of political gain and the hope of avoiding his ire. Both McConnell and Pence benefited from the arrangement.” 

George W. Bush, the only living former Republican president, issued a rare statement: “I am appalled by the reckless behavior of some political leaders since the election and by the lack of respect shown today for our institutions, our traditions, and our law enforcement. The violent assault on the Capitol – and disruption of a Constitutionally-mandated meeting of Congress – was undertaken by people whose passions have been inflamed by falsehoods and false hopes.”

Former president Barack Obama made a similar point. “For two months now, a political party and its accompanying media ecosystem has too often been unwilling to tell their followers the truth — that this was not a particularly close election and that President-Elect Biden will be inaugurated on January 20,” Obama said in a statement. “Their fantasy narrative has spiraled further and further from reality, and it builds upon years of sown resentments. Now we’re seeing the consequences, whipped up into a violent crescendo.”

The lame-duck president

Republicans repeatedly made false claims about the election and encouraged unrest ahead of violent scenes in the U.S. Capitol on Dec. 6. (The Washington Post)

Some White House aides resign in protest, as others discuss the 25th Amendment.

Deputy national security adviser Matthew Pottinger resigned overnight, per Bloomberg News, while national security adviser Robert O’Brien and deputy chief of staff Chris Liddell are contemplating doing so. Deputy White House press secretary Sarah Matthews resigned a few hours earlier, saying she was “deeply disturbed” by the insurrection. Two top aides to first lady Melania Trump – chief of staff Stephanie Grisham and White House social secretary Anna Cristina Niceta – also abruptly quit in what one adviser to the president interpreted as a sign of their disapproval of the day’s events.

One administration official described Trump’s behavior Wednesday as that of ‘a monster,’ while another said the situation was ‘insane’ and ‘beyond the pale,’” Rucker, Josh Dawsey, Shane Harris and Ashley Parker report. “Fearful that Trump could take actions resulting in further violence and death if he remains in office even for a few days, he could take actions that could cause further violence and death — senior administration officials were discussing Wednesday night whether the Cabinet might invoke the 25th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution to force him out, said a person involved in the conversations. A former senior administration official briefed on the talks confirmed that preliminary discussions of the 25th Amendment were underway, although this person cautioned that they were informal and that there was no indication of an immediate plan of action. …  

Considerable internal anger was directed toward chief of staff Mark Meadows, according to four aides, both because of what many view as his incompetence in managing the White House and his willingness to prop Trump up while indulging his false election fraud claims. People who interacted with Trump on Wednesday said they found him in a fragile and volatile state. He spent the afternoon and evening cocooned at the White House and listening only to a small coterie of loyal aides. … ‘He kept saying: ‘The vast majority of them are peaceful. What about the riots this summer? What about the other side? No one cared when they were rioting. My people are peaceful. My people aren’t thugs,’’ an administration official said. ‘He didn’t want to condemn his people.’ …

White House aides tried to get Trump to call into Fox News Channel, but he refused. He at first did not want to say anything, but was persuaded to send some tweets. Then they scripted a video message for him to record, which he agreed to distribute on Twitter. But the president ad-libbed by including references to false voter fraud claims that they had asked him not to include, the administration official said. … This official described Trump as so mad at Pence ‘he couldn’t see straight.’ … Trump’s fury extended to Pence’s chief of staff, Marc Short. The president told aides he wanted to bar Short — who was with the vice president all day at the Capitol — from the White House grounds, according to an official with knowledge of the president’s remarks. Short has told others he would not care if he was barred. … John F. Kelly, another former White House chief of staff who has shied away from rebuking Trump over other transgressions, suggested the president’s leadership was wanting.”

Mick Mulvaney quit as Trump’s special envoy to Northern Ireland. “I can’t do it, I can’t stay,” the former White House chief of staff told CNBC this morning. “Those who choose to stay, and I have talked with some of them, are choosing to stay because they’re worried the president might put someone worse in.”

Quote of the day

“Trump and I, we’ve had a hell of a journey. I hate it to end this way,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said in a floor speech. “But, today, … all I can say is: Count me out. Enough is enough.”

Facebook banned Trump indefinitely.

Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg said this morning that the social media giant is banning Trump indefinitely on both Facebook and Instagram. Twitter yesterday locked the president out of his account for 12 hours and removed three tweets. The president’s preferred platform also warned that he could be subject to a permanent suspension if he continues inciting violence. (Tony Romm and Elizabeth Dwoskin)

  • After Trump tweeted that Pence “didn’t have the courage to do what should have been done,” his supporters rushed to right-wing social media site Gab to call for those inside the Capitol to hunt down the vice president. Soon, videos of the mob chanting “Where is Pence?” circulated on Gab. (NYT)
  • Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) said he’d never seen Pence “as angry as he was today. I had a long conversation with him,” Inhofe told the Tulsa World. “He said, ‘After all the things I’ve done for [Trump].’”
  • White House counsel Pat Cipollone told West Wing staffers not to help Trump stage a coup to reduce the chance they could be prosecuted for treason under the Sedition Act, Vanity Fair’s Gabriel Sherman reports. 
  • Trump aides believed the president was actually pleased by the mayhem he saw on TV at the Capitol, per the Times’s Maggie Haberman.
  • Rudy Giuliani tried to get Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-Ala.) to delay the counting when the Senate reconvened at 8 p.m., but the president’s lawyer accidentally called the wrong senator and left a voicemail. That senator anonymously provided the audio to the Dispatch.

Commentary and opinion on the crisis:

  • Robin Givhan: “They let Confederate flags fly on the Capitol steps and inside its hallowed halls, making it plain just how they define the man and the real Americans for whom they claim to be standing firm.”
  • Monica Hesse: “An image of a rioter lounging behind a desk in Pelosi’s office highlighted the smugness of the attackers. The Trump supporters who stormed the Capitol believed they were owed this opportunity to terrorize their elected representatives.” 
  • Dan Balz: “Jan. 6, 2021, will be remembered as one of the darkest days in the history of the United States.”
  • The Washington Post’s Editorial Board: “Trump caused the assault on the Capitol. He must be removed.”
  • David Von Drehle: “This is Trump’s legacy.”
  • Dana Milbank: “Trump has committed treason.”
  • George Will: “Trump, Hawley and Cruz will each wear the scarlet ‘S’ of a seditionist.”
  • Kansas City Star Editorial Board: “Hawley has blood on his hands in Capitol coup attempt.”
  • The Albany Times Union’s Editorial Board calls for the resignation of Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.) for trying to overturn the election while “knowing full well this political theater had no basis in fact.”

Democrats win Senate control

Biden taps Merrick Garland for attorney general.

“Garland, 68, serves on the federal appeals court in the District. He is best known for being nominated to the Supreme Court in 2016,” Matt Zapotosky, Devlin Barrett and Ann Marimow report. “Many Democrats still think of Garland as a living example of Republican double-standards when it comes to the courts and the law, though some Biden advisers have come to view him as well-suited to restore norms of nonpolitical decision-making at the Justice Department, given his track record as a judge and a former senior official at the department. … Biden and his inner circle of advisers plan to nominate Lisa Monaco, a former national security official during the Obama administration, to serve as deputy attorney general in the Justice Department’s No. 2 position. … The incoming administration has picked Vanita Gupta, the former head of the department’s civil rights division under Obama, to take the No. 3 job there … Biden also plans to nominate Kristen Clarke to lead the Justice Department’s civil rights division.”

Winning both Georgia races will allow Biden to advance more of his agenda. 

“But while liberals cheered a new vision of what may be possible in the first two years of Biden’s presidency, the razor-thin Senate margin made it clear Biden’s options would still be severely limited, raising the risk that the new landscape would create expectations and pressure that Biden cannot meet,” Annie Linskey reports. “Most immediately, Biden has promised additional help to struggling families by providing $2,000 relief checks. Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), who is poised to become majority leader, said Tuesday that another round of stimulus checks is ‘one of the first things we want to do’ … Other items that may suddenly acquire new life are Biden’s plans to expand the Affordable Care Act, launch a major infrastructure program, fight climate change and reform the criminal justice system. Still, most bills require 60 Senate votes to pass. … The more far-reaching actions demanded by liberals — such as ending the filibuster, granting statehood to Puerto Rico and D.C., and expanding the Supreme Court — remain almost certainly out of reach.” 

  • Both Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff’s leads are larger than the 0.5 percentage point threshold in Georgia that allows a candidate to request a recount. (Michael Scherer)
  • Trump officials auctioned off oil and gas leases in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, capping the GOP’s decades-long quest to drill in one of the nation’s most vast unspoiled wild places. This is one of the most significant environmental rollbacks the president accomplished in his term. (Juliet Eilperin and Steven Mufson)
  • Trump is unlikely to be able to exclude undocumented immigrants from being counted for a decade’s worth of congressional appointment because the Census Bureau projected it won’t be able to get state population totals to him before he leaves office. (Brittany Renee Mayes and Tara Bahrampour)
  • The Justice Department was also hacked by the Russians as part of their the ongoing cyberespionage campaign. (Ellen Nakashima)

The coronavirus

As 3,915 Americans die of covid, the new variant spreads.

Wednesday was the deadliest day yet of the pandemic. “The mutant variant of the novel coronavirus first seen in Britain is likely to be present in much of the United States. Although the variant has so far been detected in a very small fraction of infections, it shows signs of spreading and may become significantly more common in coming weeks, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and infectious-disease experts,” Joel Achenbach and Ben Guarino report. “A more transmissible virus could drive more patients into hospitals and boost the covid-19 death toll. It also could prolong the march toward herd immunity.”

The CDC says allergic reactions to the vaccine are rare. 

“Of the 1.9 million people who received a shot during the first two weeks of vaccination, 21 experienced severe allergic reactions, according to a CDC study released Wednesday. Most of those people had a history of allergic reactions, and 20 of them have fully recovered,” William Wan and Achenbach report. “Given the small risk of severe allergic reaction and its treatable nature, the risk of catching the coronavirus and becoming severely ill or dying far outweighs that of a potential allergic reaction, CDC officials said. The virus is killing roughly 2,670 people every day — an average that continues to rise. … Of the 21 patients with allergic reactions, the median age was 40.”

HHS is accelerating plans to distribute the vaccine through retail pharmacies. The latest figures show that more than 17 million doses of the two authorized vaccines have been distributed, but only about 4.8 million doses had been given as of Tuesday. The partnership with more than 40,000 pharmacy locations from 19 chains will be one way for states to allocate doses of vaccine directly to these locations. (Lena Sun)

Tony Fauci said the U.S. could and should have done a better job of rolling out the vaccines. “Clearly, no excuses,” he told the Economic Club of Washington, adding that they should have had 20 million doses distributed by now. (CNN)

The U.S. government paid a Texas company $70 million for ventilators that were unfit for covid patients.

The ventilator, developed by a company called AutoMedx, was designed to keep wounded soldiers alive while being transported from the battlefield and had been previously declared unfit for use in a respiratory pandemic according to a research study by the Pentagon. Still, the U.S. signed a contract for them. (Reed Albergotti and Aaron Gregg) 

  • Some Americans won’t get their $600 stimulus check until they file their 2020 taxes. “The IRS declined to say how many people are affected by the requirement to file a tax return before receiving a stimulus payment, but the National Consumer Law Center said it could be up to 20 million,” Heather Long reports.
  • Japan declared a state of emergency in Tokyo, asking restaurants and bars to close early and requesting that residents refrain from non-urgent outings. (Simon Denyer)
  • Israel tightened its lockdown as officials fear the British variant is spreading rapidly and vaccine supplies run low. (NYT)
  • A small but rigorous clinical trial in Argentina, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, found that blood plasma from recovered covid patients can help older adults avoid getting seriously sick with the virus if it’s administered within days of the onset of illness. (NYT)

Social media speed read

Here are some illustrations of how the mob vandalized and desecrated our national temple to democracy:

From a survivor of the 2018 Capital Gazette shooting in Annapolis:

Rioters destroyed media gear outside the Capitol: 

Some of the agitators don’t seem to be very smart:

How it started and how it’s going:

Model Karlie Kloss, who is married to Jared Kushner’s brother Josh, said she tried to talk some sense into her in-laws: 

Trump’s most recent White House communications director, who resigned last month, expressed disgust with the ongoing election challenges:

Videos of the day

Seth Meyers delivered a serious monologue about what happened:

Stephen Colbert asked Republicans if they’ve had enough: 

Jimmy Fallon said what happened at the Capitol was not patriotism, but “terrorism”:



James Hohmann


2021-01-07 12:34:35


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