Richmond Times-Dispatch: Virginia lawmakers decry violence as pro-Trump mob attacks U.S. Capitol

RICHMOND TIMES-DISPATCH, MICHAEL MARTZ

Rep. Abigail Spanberger, D-7th, was in the House of Representatives on Wednesday when rioters supporting President Donald Trump smashed glass windows while trying to break into the chamber as lawmakers began the process of counting the Electoral College votes confirming Joe Biden’s victory.

“It went sideways pretty quickly as a violent mob came in and tried to break into the chamber,” Spanberger told the Richmond Times-Dispatch in a phone interview.

Spanberger, who has a national security and law enforcement background with the CIA and U.S. Postal Service, said “never in my wildest dreams” did she expect an insurrection in the U.S. Capitol.

“It is an unthinkable reality,” she said.

Spanberger faulted Trump, but focused on the Congress’ most pressing responsibility.

“Our first order of business is to count the electoral votes,” she said. “I will not allow for a mob or group of domestic terrorists to stop us from doing our duty.”

From the U.S. Capitol to the Virginia Capitol, Virginia lawmakers across the aisle condemned the violence as an assault on democracy. Virginia’s four Republican members of Congress, all of whom backed challenges to the electoral results, joined Democratic colleagues in denouncing the attack at the Capitol.

Rep. Donald McEachin, D-4th, called Trump “treasonous” and called for the president to be held accountable for his role in encouraging those who stormed into the U.S. Capitol.

“This really is a treasonous president who has managed to convene a group of people to engage in sedition and he needs to be held accountable for it,” McEachin told The Times-Dispatch in a phone interview from an undisclosed location after members of Congress were hustled to safety as rioters attempted to break into the House chamber.

“In my faith, we know that evil always raises hell just before it’s tossed out, and it’s about to be tossed out,” said McEachin, an ordained Baptist preacher.

He thanked Gov. Ralph Northam and Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan for promptly sending law enforcement support to help the District of Columbia Police and U.S. Capitol Police restore order. “We will do the people’s business,” he said.

Rep. Rob Wittman, R-1st, who supported objections to electors, condemned the violence at the Capitol.

“This is absolutely unacceptable. This is not how we conduct the Nation’s business,” tweeted Wittman, who represents Hanover and New Kent counties. “Please allow us to get the work of the people completed.”

Rep. Ben Cline, R-6th, posted on social media: “While people have a right to peaceably protest, those who breached the Capitol and assaulted Capitol Police officers should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. Violence is never the answer.”

Virginia’s Republican congressmen defended their decision to challenge the election results. They reiterated their argument that changes to voting procedures removed protections against fraud and were unlawful when officials or courts in those states made the reforms without the approval of the states’ legislatures. Election officials have said there is no evidence of widespread fraud that would have changed the outcome of the election.

Northam’s response

Northam declared a state of emergency in Virginia and announced he was sending members of the Virginia National Guard along with 200 state troopers to respond to the siege at the U.S. Capitol. Northam also declared a 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew in Alexandria and Arlington County at the request of those jurisdictions and in line with the curfew in the District of Columbia.

“The violence we saw at the U.S. Capitol today was nothing short of an armed insurrection and a humiliating assault on American democracy,” Northam said in a statement Wednesday night. “The President incited this mob with his refusal to accept the lawful results of a fair and secure election. And the members of Congress who have enabled him — and continue to encourage and praise his efforts — bear just as much responsibility.”

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In Richmond, the Virginia Division of Capitol Police shut down Capitol Square “out of an abundance of caution,” a spokesman said. The Pentagon said about 1,100 District of Columbia National Guard members were being mobilized to help support law enforcement at the U.S. Capitol.

Kaine and Warner

Sens. Tim Kaine, D-Va., and Mark Warner, D-Va., tweeted Wednesday afternoon that they were safe and sheltering in place at the U.S. Capitol.

In remarks on the Senate floor later Wednesday night, Kaine said the Senate came together in 1965 after John Lewis and other demonstrators for civil rights were attacked in Selma, Ala., and that Congress worked for passage of the Voting Rights Act. He said they should be coming together now to affirm Americans’ votes, but instead some lawmakers “are contemplating an unprecedented objection that would be a massive disenfranchisement of American voters.”

Warner tweeted Wednesday night: “This attack will not stop Congress from continuing the business of certifying the electoral college votes, come hell or high water.”

Cox and Chase

Virginia’s two announced Republican candidates for governor took starkly different approaches to the violence in Washington.

Former Speaker of the House Kirk Cox, R-Colonial Heights, called “the lawless actions taken today” an “affront to the republic.” In condemning “the violent rioting and destruction happening in Washington D.C.,” Cox said, “These events are in no way justified or excusable.”

“The peaceful transfer of power is a hallmark of our republic, key to the ongoing and sustainable success of a representative government,” Cox said. “The reality is that Joe Biden is set to become the next President of the United States under our Constitution.”

State Sen. Amanda Chase, R-Chesterfield, who also is seeking the GOP nomination, attended the rally in Washington and spoke in front of the Capitol but left before rioters entered the building.

A Trump supporter, Chase blamed the media for spreading what she called lies and courts for ignoring what she termed evidence that shows the presidential election was stolen. Last month, Chase called for Trump to enact martial law to prevent Biden from taking office.

“We encourage people to be peaceful and carry out peaceful protests. But are we surprised about the events that are unfolding before us today? No. In fact we warned you all that this was going to happen,” Chase told The Times-Dispatch. “The truth is being suppressed. Propaganda is being put out there by the media. As a result, people are taking matters into their own hands.”

Chase also contrasted the events with the protests related to Black Lives Matter that occurred in Richmond throughout the summer.

“They weren’t there destroying property, tearing down monuments, painting graffiti on buildings,” she said. “It’s a far contrast to what we saw with antifa and BLM, and I’ll leave it at that.”

McAuliffe, McClellan

Former Gov. Terry McAuliffe and state Sen. Jennifer McClellan, D-Richmond, two of the five Democrats seeking their party’s nomination for governor, separately joined members of Congress such as Rep. Jennifer Wexton, D-10th, in calling for Vice President Mike Pence to invoke the 25th Amendment and remove Trump from office.

“What occurred today was nothing less than an attempted coup incited by a man who swore an oath to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States on the very steps of the U.S. Capitol that was invaded by armed insurrectionists,” McClellan said in a statement.

Virginia House Minority Leader Todd Gilbert, R-Shenandoah, also decried the violence, contrasting the scene at the U.S. Capitol with the 2020 protest around the state Capitol in which 22,000 people gathered peacefully to counter Northam’s proposed gun curbs.

Gilbert said Virginians are the inheritors of more than 400 years of democracy. “We cannot, and will not, surrender this gift to the whims of any angry mob.”

Black legislators

The Virginia Legislative Black Caucus called on all political leaders in Virginia to join the caucus in condemning the mob and those who incited it.

“This was an unprecedented violent attack on our democracy. It was a disgraceful affront to our cherished tradition of a peaceful transition of power through democratic elections — a peaceful transition which has occurred since our country’s founding,” the caucus said in a statement late Wednesday, adding that those responsible “must be held accountable.”

Like Chase, the caucus members referenced Black Lives Matter protests. But they pointed out the differences between Wednesday’s police response and that of law enforcement earlier.

“The stark contrast between the response to these violent insurrectionists and the response to the protests for racial justice over the summer cannot be ignored,” the caucus said. “While those peacefully marching for racial justice and equity were met with an overwhelming show of force, tear gas, rubber bullets, and batons, today’s violent mob was met with a much more muted response, allowing for the mob to forcibly enter and overtake government buildings.”

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