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Supporters of President Donald Trump are confronted by U.S. Capitol Police officers outside the Senate Chamber inside the Capitol, Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021 in Washington.

POLITICS: Two questions from the Jan. 6 Capitol riot


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How did this happen today of all days?

Why has this gone on for so long?

Those are the two questions I still have a year after the riot at the U.S. Capitol.

I was on the air for more than 15 hours on January 6 and 7, 2021, holed up in the basement of the Capitol, during the insurrection. I actually didn’t start my day on January 6 until about 1 pm – the time when the House and Senate convened a Joint Session of Congress to certify the Electoral College. I began later than usual because we expected Republican lawmakers to contest up to six states. The House and Senate are allowed to debate each state’s slate of electors for two hours and then vote. So I thought the process may bleed well into January 7th if not January 8th.

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And therein lies the essence of my first question.

How did the riot happen on January 6th of all days?

The House and Senate only convene a Joint Session of Congress for two events: the President’s State of the Union address and to certify the Electoral College.

The Vice President and the Speaker of the House preside over this session. The Joint Session in January 2013, to certify the re-election of President Obama was a sleepy affair. No members challenged any state’s electoral votes. Fewer than 80 members from either body came to the House chamber to watch “tellers” (a group of House and Senate members) inspect the electoral votes and to hear then-Vice President Biden announce the results. In fact, many freshman members – on the job for just a few days – only swung by so they could meet the vice president or pose for a photograph.

Supporters of President Donald Trump are confronted by U.S. Capitol Police officers outside the Senate Chamber inside the Capitol, Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021 in Washington.
(AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

January 6, 2021, emerged as one of the most toxic, intense days ever seen at the historic U.S. Capitol.

Security forces expected protests. The Capitol is used to demonstrations. But no one was ready for what unfolded last year. Multiple security officials told Fox in the days leading up to the riot that their biggest concern was a “lone wolf.” And for years, Congressional security experts figured that the biggest danger to the Capitol were foreign terrorists, an airplane, or a bomb. Something akin to 9/11.

They never anticipated that a mob of Americans would descend on the Capitol and try to rip the place apart. Especially on a day as central to democracy and the peaceful transfer of power.

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I’ve observed the fury and rage percolate for years now. Americans of both sides – or unaffiliated – rage at Washington. Some of it justified. Some of it not. Some of it uninformed. Some just hyperventilating. But to see a mob ransack the U.S. Capitol in the middle of one of the most crucial moments in American democracy is the antithesis of the entire exercise. I never thought I would witness fellow citizens storm America’s citadel of democracy, break glass windows, assault police officers, defecate on the Milton tile floors of the Capitol and attempt to barge into the Speaker’s Lobby with intent to do God knows what.

Chilling doesn’t do the scenario justice.

Trump supporters try to break through a police barrier, Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021, at the Capitol in Washington. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

Trump supporters try to break through a police barrier, Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021, at the Capitol in Washington. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

The Capitol Police were outmanned, out planned, and out-frenzied by the mob that day. It is hard to defend an institution as important as the United States Capitol on a day as crucial as certifying the Electoral College when you face a deficit in all three categories.

It’s one thing for a swarm of people to descend on Capitol Hill to protest. We’ve seen that before. It’s another thing to face a violent throng whipped into a fever like the one a year ago.

The tabulation of the Electoral College will no longer be a sluggish enterprise. People now know the keys to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue run directly through January 6. The riot forever changes the significance of that date. It also exposes the potential volatility of the certification process. This is why there’s now talk on Capitol Hill about trying to update the Electoral Count Act – the law which dictates how Congress certifies the Electoral College results.

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There were challenges to electoral votes before. Democrats attempted to question the certification of electoral votes for President George W. Bush in both 2001 and 2005. The 2001 effort didn’t get very far. The 2005 maneuver actually prompted a brief debate in the House and Senate over electors from Ohio.

The Founders placed a ticking bomb inside the Constitution when it comes to the Electoral College. People don’t elect the President. Electors who comprise the Electoral College do. There’s a chasm for potential mischief between voters casting their ballots and the certification of a state’s electoral votes in Congress. This is further enhanced by the Founders mandating that the House would pick the president if the Electoral College results weren’t clear. Such “contingent elections” presented the country with Presidents Thomas Jefferson in 1801 and John Quincy Adams in 1825.

Authorities secure the area outside the U.S. Capitol, Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

Authorities secure the area outside the U.S. Capitol, Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
(AP)

But back to January 6th last year.

What took so long to quash the uprising?

Practically every lawmaker, aide, reporter, and custodian always believed the Capitol was a fortress. Impenetrable. The building dodged disaster on 9/11. There are a lot of Capitol police officers. But there were nowhere near as many officers as were needed to repel a pulse of people surging toward the Capitol as there were on 1/6.

There are scores of questions about why former President Trump didn’t act sooner to implore his supporters to stand down. One GOP lawmaker told Fox that Mr. Trump’s inaction for hours on that day “was the most malicious thing” about 1/6. Lawmakers and security officials from both sides believe a speedier response from the president would have prevented the situation from deteriorating.

Discrepancies linger about when the National Guard was ordered to the Capitol. Current House Sergeant at Arms William Walker was in charge of the Washington, D.C., National Guard on 1/6. Walker said he expected to get the green light from the Pentagon to thwart the riot early in the afternoon. The Guard never got the orders to swing into action for three hours. An Army report disputed that it took too long to respond. Walker and the DC National Guard’s attorney argues that the Army report is made of whole cloth.

Former Acting Defense Secretary Christopher Miller told a House panel last year that if troops went to the Capitol, there were “fears that the President would invoke the Insurrection Act to politicize the military in an anti-democratic manner.”

In other words, Miller worried that former President Trump would convert those troops, trying to crush the mob, into a force which would declare him the winner. Miller told the House committee there was “heightened commentary in the media about the possibility of a military coup or that advisors to the President were advocating the declaration of martial law.”

It doesn’t get much scarier than that.

Unless you try to understand why it took Capitol Police tactical units more than 45 minutes to finally end a siege in the House chamber with thugs pounding on the doors.

This is why House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., had it out with the president in a heated phone call. Other Congressional leaders called governors. The Pentagon. You name it. Anybody and anything to clear the Capitol.

It took hours. And hours. And hours.

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These are the questions: 

Why did the riot happen on January 6 of all days? 

Why did the riot go on for so long? 

There only are partial answers to these questions a year later. But some of the answers only beg deeper questions.



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