Pence opened the session by condemning the siege that saw rioters enter the Capitol building and the chambers of Congress, prompting a lockdown and delaying the certification of President-elect Joe Biden‘s win for several hours.
“We condemn the violence that took place here in the strongest possible terms. We grieve the loss of life in these hallowed halls as well as the injuries suffered by those who defended our Capitol today. And we will always be grateful to the men and women who stayed at their posts to defend this historic place,” he said.
“To those who wreaked havoc in our Capitol today, you did not win. Violence never wins. Freedom wins and this is still the People’s House.”
Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., condemned the crowd as “unhinged” saying that their actions would not deter Congress from fulfilling its duties.
“They tried to disrupt our democracy, they failed. They failed to attempt to obstruct a Congress. This failed insurrection only underscores how crucial the task before us is for our republic,” he said.
Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., addressed Americans who may be “worried about the future of this country” following the images from the Capitol.
“The divisions in our country clearly run deep but we are a resilient, forward-looking and optimistic people and we will begin the hard work of repairing this nation tonight, because here in America we do hard things. In America we always overcome our challenges,” he said.
“If our capable floor staff hadn’t grabbed them, they would have been burned by the mob,” he wrote.
Rep. Steve Scalise, R-La., said the House would resume its debate on the objection to Arizona’s electoral votes, begun before the interruption.
“After debate, the House will vote on the objection. Following the vote, the joint session will reconvene,” he said.
Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., posted on Facebook that she would reverse her decision to oppose the certification and vote to uphold the Electoral College results following the riot.
“What I have seen today is unlawful and unacceptable. I have decided I will vote to uphold the Electoral College results and I encourage Donald Trump to condemn and put an end to this madness,” she wrote.
As the session began around 1 p.m., a group of Republican lawmakers objected to the counting of Arizona’s votes.
Earlier, Rep. Paul Gosar of Wyoming, Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas and other Republicans had challenged Arizona’s electors, prompting Congress to retire to their respective chambers for debate, a process that could take up to 2 hours. Each lawmaker will be allowed 5 minutes to speak.
On the Senate floor, Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky argued against overturning the results of the 2020 presidential election.
“The Constitution gives us here in Congress a limited role. We cannot simply declare ourselves a national board of elections on steroids. Voters, courts, states have all spoken. They’ve all spoken. If we overrule them it would damage our republic forever,” he said.
Then the protesters arrived and the building went into lockdown. Congress called a recess and Pence was evacuated.
The plan had been to complete the 2-hour debate on Arizona’s votes, then regroup and continue the process in which Pence will hand sealed certificates of states’ certified results from a wooden box to tellers appointed from Congress to read.
Any objections to each subsequent state’s electoral votes would require another round of debates in each chamber.
Pence earlier said he wouldn’t try to upend the electoral vote count to certify Biden’s victory.
Pence made his position known in a letter to lawmakers in response to President Donald Trump’s false assertions on Tuesday that his deputy has the power to “reject fraudulently chosen electors.”
“My oath to support and defend the Constitution constrains me from claiming unilateral authority to determine which electoral votes should be counted and which should not,” Pence wrote in the letter. “My role as presiding officer is largely ceremonial.”
Trump slammed Pence’s letter on Twitter.
“Mike Pence didn’t have the courage to do what should have been done to protect our Country and our Constitution, giving States a chance to certify a corrected set of facts, not the fraudulent or inaccurate ones which they were asked to previously certify. USA demands the truth!” he wrote.
The joint session of Congress to certify the votes is also typically ceremonial, but, taking their cue from Trump, some Republican lawmakers held up the process with objections.
On Dec. 14, electors from all 50 states and Washington, D.C., cast their votes as determined by November’s general election, giving Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris 306 electoral votes and Trump and Pence 232.