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Congress Certifies Election Results After Violent Mob Storms U.S. Capitol

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

You could follow political news for many years and never really even notice the event that took place yesterday. Congress met, as it does every four years, and formally counts the electoral votes sent in by the states from the presidential election. Occasionally, a few lawmakers object. This time, a large bloc of Republicans objected to a Democratic election, protesting Joe Biden's win, which had been affirmed by all 50 states and tested in dozens of lawsuits. Then, in an act of insurrection, pro-Trump extremists swarmed the Capitol and disrupted the work of Congress.

(SOUNDBITE OF MONTAGE)

JOE BIDEN: Our democracy is under unprecedented assault unlike anything we've seen in modern times, an assault on the citadel of liberty.

NANCY PELOSI: To those who strove to deter us from our responsibility, you have failed.

VICE PRESIDENT MIKE PENCE: Violence never wins. Freedom wins. And this is still the people's house.

INSKEEP: We just heard the voices of President-elect Biden, whose win lawmakers were certifying; House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, whose office was raided and looted; and the last voice was Vice President Pence, who was presiding over the joint session of Congress. Pence was also the last voice we heard early this morning after Congress got back to work and formally confirmed the obvious.

NPR congressional correspondent Kelsey Snell and NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson are both with us this morning. Good morning.

KELSEY SNELL, BYLINE: Good morning.

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Good morning.

INSKEEP: What were the ways in which the president incited the violence?

LIASSON: The president spoke to the protesters on The Ellipse, encouraging them to walk to Congress, encouraging them to put pressure on Republicans who were not joining in the effort to undermine the election and throw out these slates of electors from the states. And he said that, you know, weakness will never win.

And it's not just that. Many people on both sides of the aisle who hold Trump responsible say that it's also that he relentlessly pushed this lie that the election was fraudulent and stolen from him, that he has for years refused to commit to a peaceful transfer of power. For years, he has failed to condemn other acts of right-wing violence and domestic terrorism - and his comment to the Proud Boys to stand back and stand by. And they think this was the culmination, the logical conclusion of all of that.

INSKEEP: Kelsey, is there also a role for Congress here? Because there were large numbers of members of Congress who took these objections - I mean, there's often a symbolic objection, but they took these objections a lot farther than normal, even though the evidence was quite clear who won the election.

SNELL: Yeah, this was absolutely a turning point for Republicans. You know, there were some who decided to switch their vote, and they decided to side with the affirmation of Biden's win. But this is a party divided in a way that we have not seen before. This is not the typical infighting that happens in a two-party system. This is well beyond that. And it's not going to resolve just after Inauguration Day. There are fervent Trump supporters in Congress who helped fuel this. They will run for reelection. They will fight in committees. They will continue to, you know - to fight for this as Joe Biden takes office in the coming weeks.

You know, this also forced a break between Trump and some Republicans who supported him on policy in the past but had, you know, turned a blind eye to his rhetoric or said that, you know, what happens on Twitter is not related to what happens legislatively. You know, members were forced to leave the Capitol through underground tunnels and shelter in secure locations as these rioters flooded into the Capitol. And even as they were in those rooms, members were insisting that they would return to the Capitol and finish their business last night, which they did do.

INSKEEP: What was that day like? You give us a bit of a hint there. It must have been - I mean, there must have been a moment when people wondered if they were even going to get out of the building.

SNELL: Yeah, it was chaotic. There were - reporters are returning to the Capitol now seeing bullet holes in glass panes next to the House floor. It was not something that we would typically see in the Capitol, where it is typically a very secure place where, you know, Capitol Police are typically well-equipped to handle protesters. Normal, peaceful protesters are arrested there all of the time. And there will be long-term questions about how these people got into the building, how they were handled and why they were allowed to leave without being arrested.

INSKEEP: Mara, there were a number of Republicans who objected to this gambit all along.

LIASSON: Yes, there were a number of Republicans. And don't forget, even before yesterday, even before the riots, Republicans were already forming a circular firing squad about Donald Trump. They just lost the two runoffs in Georgia. That means that they'd lost control of all branches of government. The Senate will now be Democratic. A lot of Republicans blame Trump for those losses. And remember, the Republican Party started the day yesterday as - with a big chunk of their members willing to undermine the will of the people, change the results of the election. And they ended the day with their leader inciting a violent mob to take over the Capitol.

So how does the party recover from that? There's going to be tremendous recriminations and bloodletting. And, you know, that's all going to be figured out. What's Trump's role going forward? He was going to be the kingmaker in the party. Now is he radioactive to a big chunk of the Republican Party's constituents, including big corporations? Don't forget, Donald Trump later in the day, even as he asked the protesters to go home, sympathized with them. Here's a little bit of what he said.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: This was a fraudulent election, but we can't play into the hands of these people. We have to have peace, so go home. We love you. You're very special.

LIASSON: Yep. We love you. You're very special. Later, he did issue a statement saying there would be an orderly transition on January 20.

INSKEEP: Although he added that he had a great, quote, "first term." So who knows what he means? Mara, thank you very much.

LIASSON: You're welcome.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Mara Liasson, along with NPR's Kelsey Snell. Kelsey, thanks to you.

SNELL: Thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.