The U.S. Congress on Wednesday was supposed to hold a pro-forma Constitutionally mandated procedure: formal recognition of the states’ electoral votes for president.
U.S. Rep. Earl “Buddy” Carter, R-Pooler, and other Georgia lawmakers were among a third of the country’s elected Republicans who had announced they would oppose the final stage in the handover of presidential power. Their quixotic maneuver to support President Donald Trump had no legal bearing and had been denounced by national security officials and Fortune 500 business leaders as a threat to national security.
But their act of political brinkmanship was interrupted by violence. By early evening, one person was dead, lawmakers from Georgia and the other 49 states were on lockdown and a pro-Trump mob ransacked Capitol Hill and occupied the Senate chamber.
The turmoil was the culmination of disruptive and questionable behavior exhibited repeatedly by Trump and his supporters since losing re-election Nov. 3, a drama which has ripped apart Georgia’s Republican Party and played a role in the outcome of Tuesday’s election. Democrats Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock defeated Republican incumbents David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler in an historic upset to become Georgia’s first Jewish and Black senators.
By the end of the day, Carter and Georgia’s Congressional delegation had condemned the violence, but the Coastal Georgia businessman and several other Georgia Republicans appeared unwavering in their support for the political maneuver fanned by Trump-driven conspiracies but which had no potential for changing the fact that Joe Biden beat Trump.
For weeks many among Georgia’s Congressional leaders have been lockstep with the president in upending political norms and engaging in the conspiracy and disinformation campaigns saying that Trump lost re-election due to voter fraud in Georgia and other states. By perpetuating the misinformation, they ignored at least a dozen state and federal judges in Georgia that had dismissed allegations and complaints from the Trump campaign since Nov. 3.
In a last-ditch effort to help her failed re-election efforts Monday night, Loeffler announced she would join the insurgency against the Electoral College led by Representatives Jody Hice and newly elected Republican lawmaker and QAnon fan Marjorie Taylor Greene.
Wednesday’s political grandstanding was intended, apparently, to add drama to the normally staid procedure that has been part of the transition of power between American presidents. The formality occurs after states certify election results and state electors cast Electoral College votes.
Rep. Carter issued a statement Wednesday morning confirming he would back Trump’s tactic, saying that after “studying and much prayer,” he would take his stand out of concern for “the integrity of our elections.”
Carter, however, has not answered questions about how Trump’s loss should be cause for concern, while his own electoral victory on the same November ballot could be trusted.
What’s more, Carter has not commented publicly on the decisions by state judges, including Chatham County Superior Court Judge James Bass, to dismiss the Trump campaign’s allegations of election irregularities in Georgia, or statements from fellow Georgia Republicans who are in charge of elections that no fraud occurred in the presidential race.
Carter and the Georgia congressional delegation had no chance to lodge their opposition until later in the evening.
Soon after the congressional debate began, pro-Trump supporters overcame police and barricades, broke glass, crawled through windows and swarmed the chambers of Congress. Protestors climbed scaffolding, removed the American flag and replaced it with a blue Trump flag.
The stage for civil unrest was set by an hour-long rally by the president down Pennsylvania Avenue near the White House before the hearings, an apparent last-ditch effort to keep him in power.
Trump vowed in front of the emotional crowd to take on Republicans who reject his effort to stay in office and told them they had a chance to make history if they were courageous.
“We’re going to walk down to the Capitol. And we’re going to cheer on our brave senators and congressmen and women, and we’re probably not going to be cheering so much for some of them,” Trump said at a rally outside of the White House.
“Because you’ll never take back our country with weakness,” he added. “You have to show strength and you have to be strong. We are going to see whether or not we have great and courageous leaders, or whether or not we have leaders that should be ashamed of themselves.”
Trump’s oldest son, meanwhile, underscored the message from his father that there would be consequences for lawmakers who defied the president’s will.
“To those Republicans, many of which may be voting on things in the coming hours: You have an opportunity today,” Donald Trump Jr. told the crowd. “You can be a hero, or you can be a zero. And the choice is yours. But we are all watching. The whole world is watching, folks. Choose wisely.”
“These guys better fight for Trump. Because if they’re not, guess what? I’m going to be in your backyard in a couple of months!” he said.
After nightfall Wednesday, Washington D.C. was under curfew. America’s elected lawmakers were sheltering in place, and the mob had effectively taken over the legislative assembly. Trump and his family were appealing for peace. One person shot in the melee had died.
By 8 p.m. lawmakers renewed their business, with senior Republicans and Democrats from around the country condemning the violence and chaos.
Rep. Carter spoke to WSAV television in Savannah to condemn the violence. He refused to say whether he believed Trump incited the civil unrest.
Carter’s spokeswoman did not respond to emailed requests for comment from The Current. Later in the evening, the Georgia delegation including Carter did lodge their objection to Georgia’s vote. It failed for lack of support from a senator.
Loeffler, whose own election loss in Georgia was clear by Wednesday afternoon, issued an about face around 9 p.m. “The events that have transpired today have forced me to reconsider and I cannot now in good conscience object to the certification of these electors. The violence, the lawlessness, & siege of the halls of Congress are abhorrent,” she said in a statement.