A shaken Congress resumed session late Wednesday evening, hours after insurrectionist supporters of President Donald Trump had violently stormed the U.S. Capitol building forcing lawmakers to halt the debate over certifying President-elect Joe Biden’s victory.
Ahead of the chaotic breach, which saw guns drawn in the Capitol, one woman shot and killed, and three others die in medical emergencies, Republicans had made it clear that they intended to contest results in several key swing states, including Pennsylvania.
But when the building was finally secured and the members made it back to the floor, the tone had changed. Even previously reticent lawmakers, like moderate Brian Fitzpatrick (PA-01), decried Trump for “lying to his supporters with false information and false expectations.”
“He lit the flame of incitement and owns responsibility for this,” the Bucks County Republican wrote in a tweet. “The election is over. We must allow for the peaceful transition of power to now take place and come together to rebuild confidence in our democracy.”
Fitzpatrick had been the sole GOP member of Pennsylvania’s House delegation who said he wouldn’t vote to contest the commonwealth’s election results, though he hadn’t previously said much beyond that.
Retiring Sen. Pat Toomey was the only other Pennsylvania Republican who had been outspoken about his desire to confirm the election. As the Senate returned, he reiterated that the election results make sense and show no major problems, and offered perhaps his strongest-ever rebuke of Trump.
“We witnessed today the damage that can result when men in power and responsibility refuse to acknowledge the truth,” he said. “We saw bloodshed because a demagogue chose to spread falsehoods and sow distrust of his own fellow Americans. Let’s not abet such deception.”
Toomey also noted he had voted for Trump and publicly supported his reelection campaign.
After 10 p.m., the Senate overwhelmingly rejected a move to object to Arizona’s electoral votes for Biden. Later, the House also rejected the measure, but by a slimmer margin.
Some Republicans who had initially intended to contest the results, including Sen. Kelly Loeffler (R-GA), who lost a runoff election this week, said they had changed their minds after the violence of the day.
Others were unmoved.
One of the Senate’s strongest proponents of overturning election results, Josh Hawley (R-MO), was one of the six who voted to object to Arizona’s result.
Hawley also raised disjointed and misleading claims of impropriety in Pennsylvania’s no-excuse mail voting law — saying the law had been passed “irregardless of what the Pennsylvania constitution said” and had never been upheld in court.
The law was championed and passed by a Republican-controlled state legislature and signed into law by a Democratic governor in 2019. After the election, Republican Congressman Mike Kelly (PA-16) filed a lawsuit that attempted to make a similar argument to Hawley’s, but the Pennsylvania Supreme Court threw it out, saying he could not contest the law so long after it had been passed — and weeks after the election because he was unhappy with its result.
U.S. Sen. Bob Casey said as much in his rebuttal to Hawley, saying the law is “plainly constitutional.”
“It was only after the 2020 election, when it became clear that President-elect Joe Biden won Pennsylvania by a little more than 80,000 votes, that some Republican politicians in our state decided to challenge the constitutionality of the law,” he said.
Shameful. Even after his actions directly resulted in a violent riot, Sen. Josh Hawley continues to lie about the election.
Pennsylvania had a free, fair, and secure election. That’s a fact.
Sen. Hawley’s behavior is disgraceful.
— Governor Tom Wolf (@GovernorTomWolf) January 7, 2021
The chaos, and the response
Congressional certification of the presidential election is typically a quick, procedural step ahead of the inauguration.
Amid Trump’s continued baseless claims of fraud in November’s election, the process this year became historically divisive.
If at least one Senate member and one House member contest a state’s results, the chamber must debate the challenge and then vote on the issue. Ahead of Wednesday, it was clear there were not enough votes for Congress to overturn the results of any state, so challenges would almost certainly be totally symbolic.