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Trump supporters storm U.S. Capitol, lawmakers evacuated

WASHINGTON (AP) — Violent protesters loyal to President Donald Trump stormed the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday and forced lawmakers into hiding, in a stunning attempt to overturn America’s presidential election, undercut the nation’s democracy and keep Democrat Joe Biden from replacing Trump in the White House.

The National Guard and state and federal police were called in for control, and the mayor of Washington imposed a rare evening curfew. A woman was shot and killed inside the Capitol.

While rallying his supporters outside the White House Wednesday morning, Trump urged them to march to the Capitol. But later — hours after they fought police and breached the building — he told them that although they were “very special people” and he backed their cause, they should “go home in peace.”

President-elect Biden, two weeks away from being inaugurated, had declared in Wilmington, Delaware: “I call on President Trump to go on national television now to fulfill his oath and defend the Constitution and demand an end to this siege.”

Biden said that democracy was “under unprecedented assault,” a sentiment echoed by many in Congress, including some Republicans.

The chaotic protests halted Congress’ constitutionally mandated counting of the Electoral College results, in which Biden defeated Trump, 306-232.

Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell had tried to steer Congress away from Wednesday’s formal protest of those results, and he said at the start of proceedings that Trump had clearly lost.

Wednesday’s ordinarily mundane procedure of Congress certifying a new president was always going to be extraordinary, with Republican supporters of Trump vowing to protest election results that have been certified by the states.

But even the unusual deliberations, which included Vice President Mike Pence and McConnell defying Trump’s demands, were quickly overtaken by the chaos.

In a raucous, out-of-control scene, protesters fought past police and breached the building, shouting and waving Trump and American flags as they marched through the halls. At least one explosive device was found that was detonated.

The protesters abruptly interrupted the congressional proceedings in an eerie scene that featured official warnings directing people to duck under their seats for cover and put on gas masks after tear gas was used in the Capitol Rotunda.

Senators were being evacuated. Some House lawmakers tweeted they were sheltering in place in their offices.

The Pentagon said about 1,100 District of Columbia National Guard members were being mobilized to help support law enforcement at the Capitol.

Pence was closely watched as he stepped onto the dais to preside over the joint session in the House chamber.

Pence had a largely ceremonial role, opening the sealed envelopes from the states after they are carried in mahogany boxes used for the occasion, and reading the results aloud. But he was under growing pressure from Trump to overturn the will of the voters and tip the results in the president’s favor, despite having no legal power to affect the outcome.

“Do it Mike, this is a time for extreme courage!” Trump tweeted Wednesday.

But Pence, in a statement shortly before presiding, defied Trump, saying he could not claim “unilateral authority” to reject the electoral votes that make Biden president.

Despite Trump’s repeated claims of voter fraud, election officials and his own former attorney general have said there were no problems on a scale that would change the outcome. All the states have certified their results as fair and accurate, by Republican and Democratic officials alike.

Arizona was the first of several states facing objections from the Republicans as Congress took an alphabetical reading of the election results. Then the chaos erupted.

Wisconsin congressional delegation denounces riots
  • Updated

WASHINGTON — U.S. Rep. Ron Kind described the violence Wednesday in Washington when mobs breached the U.S. Capitol as “a very disappointing day in our nation’s capital.”

The La Crosse Democrat, who was among lawmakers whisked out of the Capitol by Capitol Police after protesters supporting President Donald Trump forced their way into the building, said the violence subverted the time-honored American tradition of a peaceful transition of power from one administration to the next.

The chaos came during the Wednesday hearing in which Congress was set to certify the Electoral College results showing that President-elect Joe Biden won the November presidential election — a moment many protesters saw as a last stand for Trump, who has continued to cast doubt on the election results without evidence.

“I am safe, but I am not ceding any ground to these hooligans,” Kind said in a Zoom news conference Wednesday afternoon from his congressional office. “I refuse to surrender the United States Capitol to anyone.”

Kind said he still planned to lead the defense of the integrity of Wisconsin’s election results, if challenged, on the House floor when the body reconvened and predicted Congress ultimately would confirm Biden’s victory, which has withstood multiple legal challenges from Trump and his supporters.

“This was a disappointing and, quite frankly, an embarrassing episode for our country and for our democracy,” Kind said, noting that earlier in the day he was on a Zoom call with members of the European Parliament who were aghast at the violence in Washington.

Republican U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson, who has helped lead the challenge to Biden’s victory, condemned “all lawless activity” in a tweet and added, “Please, if you are in or around the Capitol, respect law enforcement and peacefully disperse.”

U.S. Rep. Mike Gallagher, the only Republican in Wisconsin’s delegation to oppose the challenges to Biden’s win, was more forceful in denouncing the chaos in Washington.

“This is Banana Republic crap that we’re watching happen right now,” Gallagher said in a video message he posted from his Capitol office while under lockdown. He said the effort to overturn the election result spurred the storming of the Capitol.

“This is the cost of this effort,” Gallagher said. “This is the cost of countenancing an effort, by Congress, to overturn the election and telling thousands of people there is a legitimate shot of overturning the election today even though you know that is not true.”

Gallagher also called on Trump to stop the protests.

“Mr. President, you have got to stop this,” Gallagher said. “You are the only person who can call this off. Call it off. The election is over. Call it off. This is bigger than you. It’s bigger than any member of Congress. It is about the United States of America, which is more important than any politician. Call it off. It’s over.”

U.S. Rep. Tom Tiffany, who was joining with Johnson in objecting to the results, said he was in the House chamber as debate was ongoing.

“And then all hell broke loose,” said Tiffany, who was escorted to a safe location.

Tiffany, pointing to the sometimes violent protests that followed the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody last May and the shooting of another Black man, Jacob Blake, in August by police in Kenosha, said both Democrats and Republicans need to urge calm among their supporters.

Democratic Rep. Mark Pocan tweeted that Trump should “Admit you lost, and call off the domestic terrorism you’ve incited.”

U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin, a Democrat, also weighed in on Twitter, saying, “It’s disgraceful that our country has to experience this violence because of Trump’s lies, conspiracies and un-American attacks on our Democracy.”

Kind also called out Derrick Van Orden, the GOP challenger he defeated in November, for encouraging the lawlessness.

Van Orden, who Monday posted a Facebook video saying he was in Washington to support voter integrity and to represent those concerned about the election, tweeted a video Wednesday of him standing amid “maybe a zillion people that are here to stand up for the American electoral system.”

After the mob raided the Capitol, Van Orden tweeted, “What initially started as a peaceful protest devolved into unlawful political violence. When this happened, I left as I will not be party to illegal acts. I categorically denounce all forms of political violence regardless of what side commits it."

Kind characterized Wednesday’s events as a “bloodless coup” being attempted to overturn a valid election but asserted that it wasn’t completely surprising, considering the kind of language used by Trump and some of his supporters.

“They have unleashed dark forces in our society now who think this is entirely appropriate to attempt a coup d’etat of our government because of what they’ve been led to believe,” Kind warned.

While he defended the right of Americans to peacefully protest their government, Kind added, “But when it descends into this type of chaos, or even back home if it’s looting and rioting and burning, that’s crossing the line into criminal behavior and I hope those that engage in it are going to be held personally responsible and be brought to justice,” Kind said. “That’s got to be an area of common ground that we should all share as a country regardless of political affiliation or how you view the individual demonstration.”

At least one person was shot during the violence. Officials later said the woman died at an area hospital.

Kind said the violence should prompt a moment of reflection among national leaders about the kind of country they want to represent.

Biden won Wisconsin by 20,695 votes, an outcome that was confirmed after Trump sought a recount in the two most populated counties. Since the Nov. 3 election, Trump and his allies filed eight lawsuits challenging Biden’s win on a variety of fronts. Trump’s campaign argued that nearly 221,000 absentee ballots were not cast in accordance with state law and policies in place increased the chances of widespread fraud. The lawsuits failed in state and federal courts.

The longshot objection effort to overturn the election is all but certain to fail, defeated by bipartisan majorities in Congress prepared to accept the results. Biden, who won the Electoral College 306-232, is set to be inaugurated Jan. 20.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Wisconsin avoids new COVID-19 strain so far; variant could stress hospitals, public health
  • Updated

EAU CLAIRE — A new, potentially more contagious strain of the novel coronavirus that’s been found in Colorado, California and Florida could cause trouble if it makes its way to the Chippewa Valley, and the Eau Claire City-County Health Department is encouraging people to keep wearing masks and avoiding gatherings.

There are no known cases of the new COVID-19 strain in Wisconsin as of Wednesday, but “the state had said it is plausible that it is circulating in (the Wisconsin) region,” said Audrey Boerner, public information officer for the Health Department’s pandemic response, in an email to the Leader-Telegram.

Though there are already multiple variants of COVID-19 circulating, the new variant that’s now running rampant in the U.K. has an “unusually large number of mutations,” the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said this month.

There’s no evidence that the new strain causes worse symptoms or a higher risk of death, the CDC said, but it “seems to spread more easily and quickly than other variants,” the agency wrote in December.

Currently the Eau Claire City-County Health Department isn’t able to directly monitor for the new COVID-19 strain that’s been popping up in the U.S. — identifying new virus strains can be done via genome sequencing, which the county’s public health lab isn’t equipped for, Boerner said.

Several clinical, research and public health laboratories around Wisconsin are working with the state and CDC to look for the virus strain, she noted.

“Our understanding is that it is only hypothesized to be more transmissible/contagious, but it isn’t known with certainty,” Boerner said.

Most experts say there’s no evidence that the new variant will make the COVID-19 vaccine less effective, according to the CDC.

Variant popping up in U.S.

First identified in September, the variant is now “highly prevalent” in London and southeast England, according to the CDC. It’s also been found in the United States and Canada.

Colorado officials announced Dec. 29 that Colorado National Guardsman in his 20s with no history of travel had contracted the new variant of COVID-19, after being assigned to help out at a nursing home that was in the midst of a virus outbreak.

California found the nation’s second case of the variant the next day; Florida soon followed.

Britain entered a mandatory six-week lockdown this week. Dozens of countries have banned flights from the U.K., and the U.S. started requiring people flying from Britain to get a negative COVID-19 test before their flight.

Though health officials can identify virus strains by genome sequencing, the U.S. is doing relatively little sequencing of COVID-19. As of late December, only about 51,000 of virus samples from the nation’s 17 million cases of COVID-19 had been sequenced, the CDC said.

“Given the small fraction of US infections that have been sequenced, the variant could already be in the United States without having been detected,” the agency wrote in a Dec. 29 update on its website.

If the variant does have a higher rate of transmission, more people could be infected quickly, Boerner said, which could strain hospitals and contact tracers.

“No matter what variant is the most prominent, we want to slow the spread to prevent overwhelming our hospitals,” Boerner said. “Similarly, lower numbers of cases allow for more complete contact tracing.”

She urged the Eau Claire County community to keep wearing face masks, socially distancing, avoiding crowds, ventilating indoor spaces and notifying their close contacts if they test positive.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.