APTOPIX Electoral College Protests

Supporters of President Donald Trump climb the west wall of the the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)

Rioters supporting President Donald J. Trump stormed the U.S. Capitol Building Wednesday, disrupting what was to have been the last step in ratifying President-elect Joe Biden’s November election victory.

In a statement in mid-afternoon, after attackers had forced members of Congress to evacuate their chambers and killed a woman, U.S. Rep. Mike Kelly appealed for calm.

“We know there is a lot of anger over this election and what’s happening in America, but this is not who we are,” said Kelly, a Republican backer of the president. “We resolve our disputes peacefully under the rule of law. This must stop now.”

Kelly, who represents Mercer County in the House, said he and his staff were unhurt, and credited Capitol police for their quick action to keep him and other elected officials safe.

Hours earlier, on Wednesday morning, Kelly, R-16, Butler, expressed support for the pro-Trump marchers.

“I think it’s awesome,” Kelly said. “I think they’re absolutely phenomenal.”

Kelly said he didn’t think the pro-Trump demonstration were supposed to be marching anywhere near Capitol Hill.

However, a mob of rioters broke into the Capitol Building Wednesday afternoon as members of the U.S. House of Representatives, including Kelly, and Senate convened to ratify results of the Electoral College tally. The rioters outnumbered police, according to reports from the scene.

Wednesday’s demonstration, which turned into a riot, had been planned for weeks as a last-ditch “Stop the Steal” event, the name for a movement to overturn Biden’s victory, which Trump and his supporters claimed was illegitimate.

Democrats blamed Trump for encouraging violence among the mob assembled Wednesday.

“This is a heartbreaking day for our whole country. Violent extremists, spurred onward by President Trump and his enablers, have attacked our sacred democracy and our Congress,” Pennsylvania Democratic Party Chairwoman Nancy Patton Mills. “We know this is not who we are, and we cannot allow this repugnant behavior to continue to infect our politics.”

On Wednesday morning, hours before the attack, Kelly predicted that the demonstrators would receive less media sympathy than Black Lives Matter protests last summer and fall.

“If you want to see a double standard, you watch how these things are covered,” said the six-term congressman.

As an example, he cited a protest Monday outside the home of U.S. Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo. Hawley, who had said he planned to file official objections Wednesday to electoral votes for Biden.

The Associated Press reported that Hawley said protesters stormed his house while he wasn’t home and threatened his wife and newborn daughter. Hawley was in Washington at the time.

“Tonight while I was in Missouri, Antifa scumbags came to our place in DC and threatened my wife and newborn daughter, who can’t travel,” Hawley wrote on Twitter. “They screamed threats, vandalized, and tried to pound open our door. Let me be clear: My family & I will not be intimidated by leftwing violence.”

Police said the protest was peaceful and never threatened Hawley’s wife and daughter, the Associated Press reported. No arrests were made.

Kelly said he didn’t think the protest at Hawley’s home was benign.

“Those were just friendly people. They just wanted to see the baby, maybe drop off a baby gift,” he said sarcastically.

Kelly defends election objections

The joint session of Congress, including both the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate, met Wednesday in the final step toward formalizing President-elect Joe Biden’s victory over President Donald J. Trump in the 2020 presidential election. 

Republicans in the House and Senate planned to challenge ratification of electoral votes in six swing states — Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.

U.S. Rep. Mike Kelly, who represents Mercer County in the House, said Thursday before the session that he supports the challenge effort. Kelly, R-16, Butler, said the electoral vote challenge process is a matter of protecting the integrity of voting in the United States.

“People say this is about Trump. No,” Kelly said. “This is about the system.”

Kelly, elected in November to a sixth term in Congress, targeted criticism from Democrats that Republican objections to electoral college results in contested states amount to an assault on democracy.

He said Democrats have filed similar objections to electoral results of victories by Republicans.

“I’m amazed that people think this is the first time this has ever happened,” Kelly said. “For some people, it’s going to be saving democracy. For others, it’s going to be destroying democracy. This has only happened when there’s a Republican going to be elected.”

While challenges to electoral votes at Tuesday’s are unusual, they are not unprecedented. The Congressional Research Service reports that electoral votes have twice, both times by Democrats after the elections of Republicans, been challenged in the congressional challenge phase.

In 1969, U.S. Rep. James O’Hara, D-Mich., and U.S. Sen. Edmund S. Muskie, D-Maine, objected in writing to counting the vote of an elector from North Carolina who had been expected to cast his vote for Richard Nixon and Spiro Agnew, but who instead cast his vote for the American Independent party racial segregationist ticket of Alabama Gov. George Wallace and Air Force Gen. Curtis LeMay. 

In 2005, U.S. Rep. Stephanie Tubbs Jones, D-Ohio, and U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., objected to Ohio’s electoral votes, which were decisive in President George W. Bush’s victory over then-U.S. Sen. John Kerry.

The House and Senate rejected objections.

Media outlets have reported that Democrats challenged Bush’s victory in 2000 and Trump’s win in 2016, but the Congressional Research Service does not cite any formal ratification objections following either of those presidential elections.

A supporter of Trump, Kelly has echoed Trump’s baseless accusations of voter fraud in the 2020 election, which Biden won by more than 7 million votes and an electoral tally of 306 to 232. Kelly was among the plaintiffs a fraud lawsuit requesting that Pennsylvania declare its mail-in votes invalid.

That lawsuit was rejected by both the Pennsylvania and U.S. supreme courts. Federal and state court systems — including the U.S. Supreme Court, which has three Trump appointees, and Trump appointees in the federal court system — have ruled dozens of times against claims of election fraud by the president and his supporters.

Kelly said the ratification objections are being undertaken in defense of the election system.

“What is going to happen is within the framework of what the constitution says,” he said.

Electoral College ratification: the process

During the joint session, with Vice President Mike Pence acting as chairman, Congress considered each state’s electoral votes, in alphabetical order. If one member of the House and one member of the Senate objects to ratifying any state’s result, each of the legislative bodies will recess to its own chamber for two hours of debate.

A maximum of 24 members — equal numbers of Democrats and Republicans — in each house, were allowed to speak for no more than five minutes each. At the conclusion of debate, each house voted on that state’s electoral tally before returning to the ratification process in joint session. 

If either house had voted to reject the objection, the joint session would have ratified the challenged state’s electoral votes.

With Democrats a majority in the House and Republicans holding a small advantage in the Senate, it was unlikely that any challenge would be successful. But if successful objections had pushed both Trump and Biden below the 270-electoral-vote threshold, the House of Representatives would choose the next president, with each state’s delegation getting one vote.

In that case, Trump could have won, with 27 states having Republican-majority caucuses in the House. Twenty states have Democratic majorities in their caucuses, and three states — Pennsylvania, Michigan and Minnesota — are equally split. 

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