NJ lawmakers slam ‘coup’ violence by Trump supporters at Capitol
WASHINGTON — Nearly all members of New Jersey's congressional delegation have reported being safe as a wild, violent scene continued to unfold in the nation's capital on Wednesday.
Protesters supporting President Donald Trump stormed the U.S. Capitol, clashing with police and forcing a delay in the constitutional process to affirm President-elect Joe Biden's win. The New York Times reported that protestors trashed House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's office and shattered windows elsewhere in the building.
In what New Jersey's Democratic governor called "one of the darkest days in American history," and what several Garden State congressmen likened to a coup attempt, dozens of people breached security perimeters at the Capitol. Lawmakers inside the House chamber were told to put on gas masks as tear gas was fired in the Rotunda.
Former Gov. Chris Christie, who said he had been trying to get the president on the phone before his appearance on ABC News, blamed Trump for the violence and asked him to end it.
"The president caused this protest to occur; he's the only one who can make it stop," Christie, a Republican friend of Trump, said on television. "The president has to come out and tell his supporters to leave the capitol grounds and leave Congress to do their job.”
Trump did make a brief comment on Twitter but only after the situation had already spiraled out of control.
He then released a video on Twitter in which he again falsely claims to have won the election but tells the protestors to "go home now."
Vice President Mike Pence also called on the violent protestors to stand down.
“The violence and destruction taking place at the US Capitol Must Stop and it Must Stop Now. Anyone involved must respect Law Enforcement officers and immediately leave the building," Pence said on Twitter.
President-elect Joe Biden denounced the violence as "an assault on the most sacred of American undertakings" the doing of the people's business."
Biden demanded that Trump take to television in order to call on his followers to cease the violence.
U.S. Rep. Bill Pascrell Jr., D-N.J. 9th District, called the violence a "coup attempt" by Trump and the Republicans.
"I was on the floor but I am safe with my brave staff. What we are witnessing is an attempted coup directly incited by the criminal in the White House. It will fail," Pascrell said on Twitter.
"While we watch the republican Sedition Caucus try to burn down democracy, just outside us rioting rightwing mobs are attacking police trying to storm the Capitol. These extremists are egged on by trump and republicans’ coup attempt. This is fascism."
U.S. Rep. Donald Norcross, D-N.J. 1st District, also slammed the violence as a "coup" and "riot" incited by Trump.
U.S. Rep. Jeff Van Drew, R-N.J. 2nd District, one of the state's two Republicans in Congress and who had intended to contest Biden's Electoral College victory, told The Press of Atlantic City that he hopes Trump would not just tell the protesters to be peaceful but “I’d like to see him do more, maybe even come out."
Van Drew said the protester managed to scuttle what many Trump supporters had been hoping for: a debate on the election results.
“What is happening at the Capitol is unacceptable, un-American, and disrespectful of democracy," he said in a written statement late in the afternoon. "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. I ask that the President reach out and ask the protestors to leave the Capitol building immediately.”
Just after 3 p.m., U.S. Rep. Tom Malinowksi, D-N.J. 7th District, said he was safe.
"The moment we get the all clear, I say we go right back in the Chamber and finish the damn job,” he tweeted.
The state's two U.S. senators — Bob Menendez and Cory Booker — said they and their staffs were following guidance from D.C. police.
"The scene in the Capitol goes against every value we pledge to uphold as a nation. Democracy will prevail," he said on Twitter.
U.S. Rep. Josh Gottheimer, D-N.J. 5th District, said "This is a sad and dark day for our nation, but we will not let this reprehensible violence prevail. We will finish what we came here to do. I want to thank Capitol Police and law enforcement helping to keep us safe.” Gottheimer also said that hundreds of lives had been put at risk by the breach of the Capitol.
U.S. Reps. Bonnie Watson Coleman, D-N.J. 12th District, Andy Kim, D-N.J. 3rd District, and Mikie Sherrill, D-N.J. 11th District, also reported being safe.
Sherrill said she was in the House chamber "as people attempted to breach it."
<"The Capitol Police barricaded the doors and we sheltered in place," she said on Twitter. "Once we had a secure exit, we left the Capitol and I am now in a secure location. This has been an obscene attack on our democracy, but we will prevail.”
"The scenes we're all watching right now at our beautiful Capitol are simply heartbreaking," Kim said online. "I believe in our democracy and what we're seeing is an affront to everything that makes this country great.”
“The violence and lawlessness of rioters at the Capitol right now is one of the gravest assaults on our democracy in memory," U.S. Rep. Albio Sires, D-N.J. 8th District, said. "If this was happening in any other country we would be calling it a coup attempt."
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A chaplain prayed as police guarded the doors to the chamber and lawmakers tried to gather information about what was happening, and an announcement was played inside the Capitol as lawmakers were meeting and expected to vote to affirm Biden's victory. Due to an “external security threat,” no one could enter or exit the Capitol complex, the recording said.
Protesters were also seen inside the Senate chamber. One got up on the dais and yelled “Trump won that election.”
Several dozen are roaming through the halls, yelling “Where are they?” according to a pool report.
Congressional leaders were whisked to safety. Vice-President Elect Kamala Harris, who was attending the joint session, and was also said to be safe.
At an earlier rally, Trump had urged his supporters to march to the Capitol. After protesters clashed with law enforcement and breached the Capitol building, Trump tweeted to his supporters to “stay peaceful.”
“Please support our Capitol Police and Law Enforcement,” Trump tweeted, as tear gas was deployed in the locked-down Capitol. “They are truly on the side of our Country. Stay peaceful!”
“We’re going to cheer on our brave senators and congressmen and women, and we’re probably not going to be cheering so much for some of them,” Trump said.
Both chambers abruptly went into recess. The District of Columbia's Mayor, Muriel Bowser, issued a curfew for 6 p.m.
The skirmishes occurred outside in the very spot where president-elect Biden will be inaugurated in just two weeks.
Protesters tore down metal barricades at the bottom of the Capitol’s steps and were met by officers in riot gear. Some tried to push past the officers who held shields and officers could be seen firing pepper spray into the crowd to keep them back. Some in the crowd were shouting “traitors” as officers tried to keep them back.
A suspicious package was also reported in the area, Capitol Police said.
The skirmishes came just shortly after Trump addressed thousands of his supporters, riling up the crowd with his baseless claims of election fraud at a rally near the White House on Wednesday ahead of Congress' vote.
“We will not let them silence your voices,” Trump told the protesters, who had lined up before sunrise to get a prime position to hear the president.
Sergio Bichao, Erin Vogt and Dan Alexander contributed to this report.
EDITOR'S NOTE: This is a breaking news story and will be updated frequently.