As a hoard of pro-Trump rioters stormed and occupied the U.S. Capitol in Washington, most of New Jersey’s congressional representatives checked to say they were safe and to condemn the violent actions — as well as Donald Trump’s incitement of the destruction.
The House of Representatives recessed in the midst of debating the first Republican objection to Arizona’s Electoral College vote as Trump supporters — some in camouflage, helmets and gas masks — breached the Capitol. About two hours after that, U.S. Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman said the violence won’t stop Congress from affirming the results of the election and affirming President-elect Joe Biden’s victory.
“While this is an ongoing incident, I want to first let everyone know that I am safe,” Watson Coleman (D-12th) said. “This is not a mere protest; this is a disruption of democracy. And it is the direct result of incendiary rhetoric from the president and members of his party. It’s the last gasp of a party that has abandoned its commitment to our country’s ideals. When we have resolved the destruction, violence and chaos in the Capitol, we’ll go back to the business of confirming the votes of the American people.”
Both houses of Congress were in joint session in the Capitol to take what is usually a pro forma action to certify the results of the November presidential election. This year, a number of Republicans — among them New Jersey’s Jeff Van Drew, a former Democrat who switched parties 13 months ago — planned to object to the votes of swing states that Biden won. After Vice President Mike Pence certified the results of the first two states, which backed Trump, Republicans objected to the Arizona results and prompted the House to recess to its own chambers for two hours of debate and a vote.
Guards with guns drawn
After hearing from several representatives, there was a ruckus in the House gallery and a number of Democratic members quickly left the floor. That led the House to recess. The Senate did as well. Congress did resume its deliberations slightly after 8 p.m.
TV news footage showed that some rioters broke windows to get into the building and security had barricaded doors leading into the House chamber and were standing guard with guns drawn. Other reports indicated some protesters had vandalized the building, left a note on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s desk and one man sat in Pence’s chair in the Senate chamber.
In a tweet at 3:40 p.m., Rep. Mikie Sherrill (D-11th) gave a glimpse of the chaos and danger representatives faced.
“I was in the Chamber as people attempted to breach it,” she tweeted. “The Capitol Police barricaded the doors and we sheltered in place. Once we had a secure exit, we left the Capitol, and I am now in a secure location.”
Beginning his 13th term in office, Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-9th) condemned the actions, calling it “an attempted coup” and blamed Trump and congressional Republicans for it.
Calling it treason
“Today inside the Capitol, Republicans sought to tear down our democracy while the rightwing extremist mob they whipped up outside is violently trying to do the same,” said Pascrell, who was in the House chamber when the mob stormed the building. “This attempted coup is treasonous. It was incited directly by Donald Trump and some Congressional Republicans. When he leaves office Trump must be prosecuted for his crimes, perhaps including his incitement to violence.”
Pascrell questioned how the rioters were able to get into the Capitol, saying, “If the Defense Department blocked the deployment of the National Guard, any one responsible for that must be held accountable and possibly arrested.”
Officials knew Trump supporters had planned to rally and Trump himself addressed it, saying he would never concede and encouraged the crowd to march to the Capitol in a show of “strength.” As the sun set over Washington, police reinforcements arrived at the Capitol and appeared to clear the steps. National Guard troops were reportedly on the way but still were not visible.
Murphy dispatches NJ State Police
Gov. Phil Murphy announced at 5 p.m. that he was sending New Jersey State Police to Washington at the request of D.C. officials “to facilitate the peaceful transition of power & protect our democracy.” He also said he would deploy the New Jersey National Guard if asked. The governor called it “one of the darkest days in American history” and an “attempted coup.”
Most of the state’s representatives checked in throughout the afternoon via Twitter, saying they were safe, thanking the Capitol Police and condemning the actions.
Sen. Bob Menendez, the state’s senior Democratic senator, was one of the first to tweet, writing at 3:09 p.m. that he and his staff were safe and adding, “The scene in the Capitol goes against every value we pledge to uphold as a nation.”
“My staff and I are safe,” tweeted Sen. Cory Booker at 3:49 p.m. “It is disgraceful that Trump and his allies have enabled this violence and attacks on our democracy.”
Others, like Rep. Donald Norcross (D-1st), also tweeted that the action would not stop Congress from doing its work.
“My colleagues in Congress & I will finish our work to certify a Biden-Harris Electoral College win, upholding the will of the American people,” tweeted Norcross who was on the floor of the House when the protesters breached the building.
Van Drew’s office did not respond to a request to comment about whether he still planned to object to the Electoral College results and whether he thought the objections played any part in agitating the Trump supporters. He did issue a statement, in which he called on Trump — to whom he once pledged his “undying loyalty” — to ask the protesters to leave the Capitol. Trump did about two hours after the breach as he also called them “very special” and said “we love you.” The president’s tweet was subsequently blocked by Twitter.
“What is happening at the Capitol is unacceptable, un-American, and disrespectful of democracy,” Van Drew’s statement said. “The debate many protestors have been asking for was happening today and because of these actions it was abruptly ended. Everyone has the right to peacefully protest but what happened today was not peaceful or productive. Today’s debate was about the rule of law and by harming police officers, being violent, and breaking into a Federal building, the rule of law was broken.”
Pascrell demands proof
Pascrell, one of Trump’s most vocal critics, did not mince his words in calling on Republicans to stop enabling the president by backing his false statements objecting to the results of a free and fair election without credible proof of any fraud.
“To all the Trump sycophants that followed in his footsteps, to all my Republican colleagues I say this: Once the fascist genie has been let out of the bottle, he can’t be forced back in,” Pascrell said. “Violent fascism at the footsteps of our national legislature was fed by Republicans and years of fomenting extremism against our government. They built this. This authoritarianism will not disappear in 14 days. I have been calling for accountability for four years. It cannot be ignored any longer. The long-term preservation of democracy is in our hands right now. It is the challenge of our time to eradicate this poison starting now.”