The Roanoke Valley’s Republican congressmen joined a bid to overturn the 2020 presidential election Wednesday, but the effort to display their loyalty to President Donald Trump by contesting the certification of Electoral College results quickly came to a halt after an angry mob of Trump partisans stormed the Capitol building.
Reps. Ben Cline, R-Botetourt, and Morgan Griffith, R-Salem, were among lawmakers forced into hiding and pleading for supporters of their own party’s leader to be peaceful as police struggled for hours to regain control. Virginia Democrats condemned Trump, saying he incited the riot, while Republicans called for an end to the violence.
“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,” Cline posted on social media. “Violence is never the answer, and I condemn their actions in the strongest possible terms.”
Gov. Ralph Northam sent the Virginia National Guard and 200 Virginia state troopers to the nation’s capital to assist in stopping the violence.
All four of Virginia’s Republican congressmen — Cline, Griffith, Bob Good, R-Campbell, and Robert Wittman, R-Westmoreland — joined the effort challenge President-elect Joe Biden’s Electoral College win. The ploy was doomed to fail from the start, and Biden is to take office Jan. 20.
Shortly after Congress began the process of certifying the results, Trump supporters broke into the Capitol.
“I’m sheltering in place as protestors storm the Capitol in a violent and fanatical attempt to interrupt Congress,” Rep. Jennifer Wexton, D-Loudoun, posted on social media. “We’re witnessing the consequences of the radical disinformation campaign created by the president, his allies and some of my colleagues.”
Wexton called for the Cabinet to remove Trump, or the House should impeach him.
Republicans have promoted Trump’s baseless claims that Democrats stole the election through fraud and massive misconduct in a half-dozen states. Influential political activists in Western Virginia and Trump supporters have called for their representatives to back Trump’s last stand, creating a situation where lawmakers’ political viability may depend on their actions on Wednesday.
“This is about ensuring the will of the American people is accurately, justly and constitutionally followed,” said Good, who was sworn in this week as the new representative of the 5th Congressional District. “This vote is about election integrity.”
Good, who presented himself during his congressional race as the law-and-order candidate and criticized Democrats for not cracking down on violence, called on people to be peaceful and respect law enforcement. He’s repeated Trump’s misleading and false claims that Democrats stole the election.
“Peaceful assembly, protesting and petitioning our government to express our grievances is fundamental to our constitutional republic,” Good wrote in a statement. “We are also a nation established on the rule of law, and we must never resort to violence.”
Virginia’s Republican congressmen defended their decision to challenge the election results by reiterating 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.
“As I stand in defense of our Constitution and the principles enshrined within it, I also stand in defense of the authority of state legislatures across this great Nation, the citizens they represent, and the great democratic experiment that has endured for centuries,” Cline wrote in a statement Tuesday night.
Griffith and 36 other Republicans signed a statement acknowledging that their objections likely wouldn’t be sustained by a majority of both chambers of Congress.
“Our oath, nonetheless, is to ‘support and defend the Constitution of the United States,’ and to ‘bear truth faith and allegiance to the same,’” the statement read.
Griffith said Wednesday after the violence broke out that the U.S. Capitol was “the place where Americans debate issues peacefully.”
“It should not be subject to break-ins and violence,” he posted on social media.
Numerous Republicans in Virginia’s General Assembly publicly condemned the violence.
“The violence and lawlessness in our nation’s Capitol today is an absolute disgrace to democracy and should be universally condemned by every America, including our president,” state Senate Minority Leader Tommy Norment, R-James City, said.
“Anyone who condemned the riots this summer in Richmond and other cities across this country cannot in good conscience remain silent now,” said Del. Tony Wilt, R-Rockingham.
A day earlier, Republican Dels. Ronnie Campbell of Rockbridge, Mark Cole of Spotsylvania, and David LaRock of Loudoun, wrote a letter to Vice President Mike Pence asking him to reject the “certificate of ascertainment” that is submitted to formally cast Virginia’s electoral votes. Cole sits on the House Privileges and Elections Committee.
The letter calls into question Virginia enacting a law last year to allow for the use of ballot drop boxes. They said the numerous changes to voting laws — championed by Democrats who made expanding voting rights a priority in their first year of taking control of the legislature — “led to greatly increased opportunities for massive voter fraud and election fraud.”
Virginia election officials have said they were pleased with how the election process went and found no evidence of significant voter fraud.
State Sen. Amanda Chase, R-Chesterfield, a Republican gubernatorial candidate, spoke to a crowd of people in D.C. and then attended the Trump rally, but she left before the riot broke out. Chase had called previously for Trump to declare martial law in Virginia.
“I know there are a lot of unhappy people, including myself,” she said, adding she was disappointed Pence wouldn’t block Biden’s election certification.
House of Delegates Minority Leader Todd Gilbert, R-Shenandoah, said people have a right to peacefully protest, but what was happening at the U.S. Capitol was “inexcusable.”
“It is not a protest. It is a riot masquerading as a protest,” Gilbert said in a statement. “We are a nation of laws. When we have differences, including over the conduct and method of elections, we settle them according to law. Courts, legislatures, and votes determine the shape of our nation, not mobs who cause destruction and attack law enforcement.”