US president Donald Trump has pledged an “orderly transition” on January 20 after Congress certified Joe Biden’s electoral college victory in the early hours of Thursday morning following a traumatic day of rioting in the US Capitol.
In a statement posted on Twitter by Dan Scavino, the White House deputy chief of staff for communications, which was retweeted by the White House’s official account, Mr Trump appeared to put an end to two months of uncertainty over his intentions.
“Even though I totally disagree with the outcome of the election, and the facts bear me out, nevertheless there will be an orderly transition on January 20,” he wrote. “I have always said we would continue our fight to ensure that only legal votes were counted. While this represents the end of the greatest first term in presidential history, it’s only the beginning of our fight to Make America Great Again!”
Mr Trump’s vow to leave office came shortly after Mike Pence, the vice-president, declared that Mr Biden had prevailed in the electoral college, after presiding over a joint session of Congress that was severely disrupted by a mob attack carried out by Mr Trump’s supporters on the US Capitol.
The FBI said on Thursday it was “seeking to identify individuals instigating violence in Washington” and issued a call on Twitter for tips and images of the rioting.
Members of the Senate and the House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly to accept the electoral college votes for Mr Biden in both Arizona and Pennsylvania, overriding the objections of several Republican lawmakers who contested the results in the two battleground states. Votes were approved without extended debate in the 48 other US states and the District of Columbia.
Earlier this week, 13 Republican senators were expected to join dozens of GOP House members to challenge the results in as many as six swing states, echoing Mr Trump’s unsubstantiated claims of voter fraud.
But several senators changed their stance on Wednesday night after Trump supporters launched an attack on the Capitol complex as lawmakers debated the Arizona returns.
After hours of interruption, congressional leaders ploughed ahead with the certification process in defiance of the rioters late on Wednesday.
“The United States Senate will not be intimidated. We will not be kept out of this chamber by thugs, mobs or threats,” Mitch McConnell, the Republican Senate majority leader, said after his colleagues returned to the upper chamber, escorted by National Guardsmen and other law enforcement.
“They tried to disrupt our democracy; they failed,” he added.
Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic Speaker of the House, wrote in a letter to colleagues that despite the “shameful assault” on the proceedings, rioters should not be allowed to “deter us from our responsibility to validate the election of Joe Biden”.
The electoral college certification is normally a formality but became a politically fraught exercise in the face of Mr Trump’s campaign to overthrow the November 3 election’s results.
Twitter and Facebook temporarily locked Mr Trump’s accounts on Wednesday after he repeated false claims of election fraud.
Twitter said it would prevent the president from tweeting for at least 12 hours until roughly 7am EST on Thursday and would only unblock the account only if he deleted three misleading tweets. Facebook said it would freeze the president’s official page for 24 hours.
In the run-up to January 6, there had been some uncertainty over Mr Pence’s willingness to declare Mr Biden the winner at the end of the count, but on Wednesday afternoon he said he did not have the power to block the certification. The vice-president said Mr Biden prevailed — then handed the floor to the Senate chaplain, Barry Black, who delivered a searing final prayer about the events that had unfolded in the past 24 hours.
“We deplore the desecration of the United States Capitol building, the shedding of innocent blood, the loss of life, and the quagmire of dysfunction that threatens our democracy . . . words matter and the power of life and death is in the tongue,” he said.
The rioters had broken into the Capitol after a group of congressional Republicans contested the votes submitted by Arizona, which triggered an extended debate over Mr Trump’s baseless claims of voter fraud.
But after the violence that unfolded on Wednesday afternoon, which left four people dead and several injured, a number of lawmakers shed their objections to giving a green light to Mr Biden’s presidency.
Senators Steve Daines of Montana, Kelly Loeffler of Georgia and James Lankford of Oklahoma all backtracked and said they would drop their opposition to Mr Biden’s election.
Allies of the president including Lindsey Graham of South Carolina said Mr Biden needed to be recognised as the next president and lamented the events on Capitol Hill. “Trump and I, we had a hell of a journey,” Mr Graham said. “I hate it being this way . . . but today all I can say is count me out. Enough is enough.”
Others, including Josh Hawley of Missouri, stayed resolute in their loyalty to the president. “What we are doing here tonight is actually very important because for those who have concerns about the integrity of our elections, those who have concerns of what happened in November, this is the appropriate means,” said Mr Hawley.
He later objected to the electoral votes in Pennsylvania, triggering several more hours of debate before being overridden in the early hours of Thursday.
Mr Hawley was fiercely criticised by Mitt Romney, the Utah senator and former Republican presidential candidate, whose scathing riposte earned a standing ovation from many Democrats.
“The best way we can show respect for the voters who are upset is by telling them the truth,” Mr Romney said. “The truth is president-elect Biden won the election. President Trump lost. I have had that experience myself. It’s no fun.”
On Thursday morning, Mick Mulvaney, Mr Trump’s former chief of staff, said he was quitting as special envoy to Northern Ireland in protest at Mr Trump’s actions.
“I can’t do it. I can’t stay”, he told CNBC. “You can’t look at that yesterday and think I want to be a part of that in any way, shape or form.”
Mr Mulvaney said he “wouldn’t be surprised” to see further resignations from the Trump administration over the next 24 to 48 hours.
“Those who choose to stay, and I have talked with some of them, are choosing to stay because they’re worried the president might put someone worse in.”
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