WASHINGTON: Congress gavelled back into session late Wednesday (Jan 6) to resume the process of certifying Joe Biden's presidential election victory, more than six hours after supporters of President Donald Trump attacked the Capitol and forced lawmakers to flee.
"As we reconvene in this chamber, the world will again witness the resilience and strength of our democracy," Vice President Mike Pence said as he brought the Senate into session.
"To those who wreaked havoc in our Capitol today, you did not win. Violence never wins, freedom wins," Pence added. "Let's get back to work," he said, drawing applause.
The House of Representatives also resumed its session, with Speaker Nancy Pelosi telling lawmakers they will stay "as long as it takes" to finish the certification of Electoral College votes, the final formal step affirming Biden's win.
"We must and we will show to the country, and indeed to the world, that we will not be diverted from our duty, that we will respect our responsibility to the constitution and to the American people."
Both chambers were forced into recess earlier as they were debating the objection by some Republicans to the Electoral Vote count in Arizona, a swing state that voted for Biden.
Police declared the Capitol building secure shortly after 5.30pm (6.30am, Singapore time), and lawmakers reconvened shortly after 8pm to resume the election certification.
Lawmakers of both parties reentered their chambers under heavy security escorts hours after the unrest, which saw protesters breach barricades, and push past police into the House and Senate.
Security agents drew weapons inside the House chamber during a dangerous standoff that left lawmakers fearing for their lives.
The Senate's Republican leader, Mitch McConnell, sought to present a united front against the rioters who triggered the Washington mayhem.
"The United States Senate will not be intimidated. We will not be kept out of this chamber by thugs, mobs or threats," said McConnell.
"We're going to finish exactly what we started ... and we will certify the winner of the 2020 presidential election."
Democratic leader Chuck Schumer said Trump “bears a great deal of the blame” for a day that will “live forever in infamy”, describing the events as a stain on the country.
Schumer said the events “did not happen spontaneously”.
He said: “The president, who promoted conspiracy theories that motivated these thugs, the president, who exhorted them to come to our nation’s capital, egged them on.”
Schumer says the protesters should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.
Scores of Republican representatives and 13 GOP senators had planned to object on Wednesday to the electoral votes of perhaps six states that backed Biden. In light of the day’s violent events, however, multiple Republican senators reversed course and said they would not object to congressional certification of Biden’s victory.
Senators Steve Daines of Montana, Mike Braun of Indiana and Kelly Loeffler, who just Tuesday lost her special election in Georgia in a runoff that led to Democrats gaining control of the chamber, all said they would stand down from planned objections to Biden’s win.
All three had previously signed on to Trump's false claims of widespread voter fraud to explain his defeat.
"When I arrived in Washington this morning I fully intended to object to the certification of electoral votes," she told her colleagues during the debate.
"However, the events that have transpired today have forced me to reconsider, and I cannot in good conscience object to the certification of these electors."
As the House of Representatives reconvened, Pelosi said Congress’ certification of Biden’s election win will show the world it won’t back down.
She said that the ritual provides an example to the world of American democracy every four years.
“Despite the shameful actions of today, we will still do so, we will be part of a history that shows the world what America is made of,” Pelosi said.
Pelosi, a Roman Catholic, noted that Wednesday is the feast of the Epiphany, and prayed that the violence would be “an epiphany to heal” for the country.Earlier, Pelosi said that lawmakers would resume the count of electoral votes to confirm the November election result once the US Capitol was cleared.
Pelosi said she made the decision in consultation with the Pentagon, the Justice Department and the vice president, who will preside.
"We have decided we should proceed tonight at the Capitol once it is cleared for use," Pelosi said in a letter to colleagues, after reports that the building was secured by police and demonstrators were removed.
The senior lawmaker blasted the storming of the Capitol as a "shameful assault" on American democracy that was "anointed at the highest level of government, but said "it cannot, however, deter us from our responsibility to validate the election of Joe Biden".
Trump had encouraged his supporters to come to Washington to fight Congress’ formal approval of President-elect Joe Biden’s win.
He held a rally earlier on Wednesday and urged his supporters to march to the Capitol, telling them to “get rid of the weak Congress people” and saying, “get the weak ones get out; this is the time for strength”.
Trump supporters breached the Capitol building and clashed with law enforcement before disrupting Congress’ tallying of the Electoral College votes. Trump issued a restrained call for peace but did not call on his supporters to leave.
Trump has repeatedly told his supporters that the November election was stolen from him, even though that is not true.