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CRISIS IN WASHINGTON

Trump turns on Pence – Now what?

US Capitol finally re-secured, Congress reconvened, but 4 dead, many injured, American democracy rattled after horrifying assault

U.S. Vice President Mike Pence and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), read the final certification of Electoral College votes cast in November's presidential election during a joint session of Congress at the Capitol in Washington, D.C., Jan. 7, 2021 after protesters stormed the Capitol disrupting the process. (Photo: J. Scott Applewhite/Pool via REUTERS)

Before making aliyah and moving to Israel, I lived on Capitol Hill and in the Washington, D.C. area with my wife and kids for 24 years.

I witnessed firsthand some previously unimaginable events, from a march of thousands of KKK thugs in their white hoods through the streets of Washington, to anti-Gulf War protests in Lafayette Park across from the White House that were so dangerous that the Secret Service barricaded the White House, to al Qaeda’s kamikaze attack on the Pentagon on 9/11 and the deployment of U.S. troops and anti-missile batteries on the streets of D.C.

But we have never seen anything like what happened in Washington on Wednesday.

  • A brazen assault and breach of the U.S. Capitol Building, not by foreign terrorists but by hundreds of enraged Americans, many of them in paramilitary uniforms and combat helmets.

  • Shots fired and tear gas used inside the Capitol by police officers and security agents in a desperate bid to protect the vice president of the United States, speaker of the House and 535 members of Congress, plus their aides – a battle that left four agitators deadat least 52 arrested and 14 police officers injured.

  • The president-elect going on live national TV to denounce the assault and demand the extremists leave the Capitol immediately.

  • Yet the president of the United States did not go on live national TV to forcefully and decisively defend the Congress, the Capitol and America’s institutions of democracy – instead, President Donald Trump sent out a one-minute video via Twitter affirming the outrage of the mob and tepidly asking everyone storming the Capitol grounds to turn around and “go home in peace.” 

Former White House Director of Communications Alyssa Farah – a proud and longtime Trump loyalist – urged the president via Twitter to, “Condemn this now – you are the only one they will listen to. For our country!"

Yet Trump refused.

Perhaps most stunning – and disturbing – was watching President Trump publicly and inexplicably turn against Vice President Mike Pence, his most loyal advisor and deputy over the past four years.

In a 90-minute speech to a massive crowd of protestors before the mob attack on the Capitol, President Trump gave voice to millions of Americans who are furious because they believe Democrats cheated in a number of critical battleground states, costing the Republicans the White House.

But Trump was not just giving voice to this belief and anger – he was vowing never to concede the election to Biden and urging his supporters to “fight” on for victory.

“Hundreds of thousands of American patriots are committed to the honesty of our elections and the integrity of our glorious Republic,” Trump told the massive crowd. “All of us here today do not want to see our election victory stolen by emboldened radical left Democrats, which is what they’re doing and stolen by the fake news media. That’s what they’ve done and what they’re doing. We will never give up. We will never concede, it doesn’t happen. You don’t concede when there’s theft involved.”

“Our country has had enough,” he said. “We will not take it anymore and that’s what this is all about. To use a favorite term that all of you people really came up with, we will stop the steal.”

Seven minutes into the speech, the crowd chanted, “Fight for Trump! Fight for Trump! Fight for Trump!”

“Thank you,” Trump said.

Then, the president challenged Pence to take unilateral action to overturn the results of the election, in the VP’s role as president of the Senate 

“I hope Mike is gonna do the right thing. I hope so. I hope so, because if Mike Pence does the right thing, we win the election,” Trump said. “All he has to do. This is from the number one or certainly one of the top constitutional lawyers in our country. He has the absolute right to do it. We’re supposed to protect our country, support our country, support our constitution, and protect our constitution. States want to revote. The States got defrauded. They were given false information. They voted on it. Now they want to recertify. They want it back. All Vice-President Pence has to do is send it back to the States to re-certify, and we become president, and you are the happiest people.”

Pence refused. 

Instead, the VP released a two-page letter that he sent to members of Congress explaining while he shares the deep concerns of “millions of Americans” that the November elections involved “significant allegations of voting irregularities and numerous instances of officials setting aside state election law,” that he was not legally empowered as vice president to unilaterally overturn the election, or fail to certify the votes of the Electoral College. 

"It is my considered judgment that 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.

[The letter is worth reading in full.]

At this point, Trump blasted his own vice president.

“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!” Trump tweeted.

As night fell on Wednesday, more than 1,100 National Guard troops in full riot gear and scores of D.C. Metro Police, U.S. Secret Service agents, FBI agents and other federal, state and local law enforcement. 

They assisted the Capitol Police in securing the Capitol Building and clearing the Capitol grounds.

Once the “all clear” signal was given, Vice President Pence and all 535 combined members of the House and Senate reemerged from the secure holding areas underneath the Capitol complex and proceeded to complete their constitutionally-assigned business.

The electoral votes were counted, several procedural votes were taken and at 3:32 a.m. eastern time Joe Biden was formally certified by Congress as the official winner of the presidential election.

After the mob's violent effort to derail these democratic procedures, nearly every Republican legislator who had originally announced that they were going to engage in long floor speeches to expose election fraud allegations and to argue against certification opted against such moves. 

Many told reporters that while they still believe there is very serious evidence of fraud and malfeasance, these are matters that can only be corrected at in state legislatures, since the U.S. Constitution empowers only the states – not Congress – to handle election matters in the states.

A striking number of conservative Republican members of Congress who have been close allies of Trump were highly critical of the president’s behavior Wednesday.

No one in the Senate has been closer to Trump than Sen. Lindsey Graham, the South Carolina Republican, but he declared on the floor of the Senate that he had enough of the president’s unproven allegations of fraud and corruption. 

"Trump and I, we had a hell of a journey,” Graham said when the Senate reconvened after the day’s drama. “I hate it being this way. Oh, my God, I hate it ... but today all I can say is count me out. Enough is enough. I tried to be helpful.”

Graham called Trump a “consequential president.”

But Graham insisted that it was time for Republicans to accept the loss – not be happy about it – but to accept it the way Al Gore had to ultimately accept his loss in 2000. 

It was a message reiterated by other close Trump allies, including Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas.

“Those who attacked the Capitol today should face the full extent of federal law,” Sen. Cotton said after the melee in the Capitol. 

That said, Cotton added, “It’s past time for the president to accept the results of the election, quit misleading the American people, and repudiate mob violence. And the senators and representatives who fanned the flames by encouraging the president and leading their supporters to believe that their objections could reverse the election results should withdraw those objections. In any event, the Congress will complete its constitutional responsibilities tonight.”

Fortunately, the violence was not worse and the death toll was not higher.

Many congressmen are calling for an investigation into how the Capitol Police allowed such an historic and egregious breach of security, and some are suggesting that firings are likely to occur.

Two homemade bombs were found Wednesday near the headquarters of the Republican National Committee and Democratic National Committee, but were defused and disposed of without incident. 

“Federal agents also are investigating a pickup truck found outside the RNC, according to two people familiar with the investigation,” reported the Washington Post. “The truck, parked across the street from the party offices and near the entrance to a Metro station, contained rifles and shotguns, a great deal of ammunition, and other unspecified material, these people said. Federal agents are still trying to determine if that vehicle and its contents are connected to the suspected pipe bombs found earlier, the people said.”

Now what?

There are only two weeks left of the Trump presidency.

What will the relationship between Trump and Pence look like in the days ahead?

Personally, I have never heard so much open talk among Democrats and Republicans alike of the possible need to invoke the 25th amendment. 

Not saying it is justified – but tensions in Washington are running high.

Joel C. Rosenberg is the editor-in-chief of ALL ISRAEL NEWS and ALL ARAB NEWS and the President and CEO of Near East Media. A New York Times best-selling author, Middle East analyst, and Evangelical leader, he lives in Jerusalem with his wife and sons.

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