When newly elected Mike Pence showed up at the U.S. Capitol for his first joint session of Congress on Jan. 6, 2001, he watched Vice President Al Gore declare George W. Bush and Dick Cheney as the winning Electoral College ticket. He heard Gore, who lost a bitter election that was ultimately decided in the Bush v. Gore U.S. Supreme Court case, tell the assembly at its conclusion, “May God bless our new president and new vice president, and may God bless the United States of America.”
Nine months and five days later – on Sept. 11 – Rep. Pence stood in that Capitol as the doomed Flight 93 approached, only to be forced in the ground a hundred miles short of its target by patriot passengers.
On Wednesday, Vice President Pence presided over a joint session of Congress in what should have been a routine congressional imprimatur of state certification showing he and President Donald Trump had lost the Nov. 3 election to Democrats Joe Biden and Kamala Harris. This occurred as CBS News reported this cryptic message heard on restricted channels by multiple New York air traffic controllers: “We are flying a plane into the Capitol Wednesday. Soleimani will be avenged.”
The terror at the U.S. Capitol didn’t come from pilots from Iran, but by supporters of President Trump who laid siege to the building after he goaded them to go to the citadel of democracy. At a rally at the Ellipse, Trump made a lie-filled speech, telling his supporters the election had been stolen. (It had not, having been certified by all 50 states.) Claiming that Joe Biden would be “illegitimate,” Trump vowed he would “never concede” and urged the massive crowd to march to the Capitol where hundreds had already gathered under tight security. “We’re going to walk to the Capitol,” Trump said. “You’ll never take back our country with weakness.”
The Capitol was quickly overwhelmed, security perimeters were breached. Protesters could be seen breaking windows and entering the Senate chamber, sitting where Pence had been sitting just an hour earlier.
“This is what the president has caused today, this insurrection,” said U.S. Sen. Mitt Romney, the Republican 2012 presidential nominee. Former President George W. Bush compared the “insurrection” to something that might happen in a “banana republic.”
During the proceedings, Pence had acknowledged a challenge to Arizona’s certification, and adjourned so that the two houses could carry out their separate debates. It was the first of what had been expected to be several debates as lawmakers objected to the results from Georgia, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin.
In the ultimate split screen moment, Trump told his supporters, “All Vice President Pence has to do is send it back to the states to recertify, and we become president.” The loudspeakers at the “Overturn the Election” rally played the Celine Dion theme song “My Heart Will Go On” from the movie “Titanic.”
That came after Pence issued a statement hours earlier: “Some believe that as Vice President, I should be able to accept or reject electoral votes unilaterally. Others believe that electoral votes should never be challenged in a Joint Session of Congress. After a careful study of our Constitution, our laws and our history I believe neither view is correct.”
“My role as presiding officer is largely ceremonial,” Pence said, ending the three-page letter saying, “So Help Me God.”
Outside the Russell Senate Office Building, U.S. Sen. Todd Young was confronted by a crowd of his Hoosier constituents. Asked why he didn’t join Indiana colleague Mike Braun in contesting the Electoral College results, an emotional Young said, “My opinion doesn’t matter. And you know what, when it comes to the law, our opinions don’t matter. The law matters. I share that conviction that President Trump should remain president. I share that conviction, but the law matters. I took an oath under God, under God!”
Hours after Georgia Republicans lost two U.S. Senate races, Sen. Mitch McConnell spent his last hours leading the majority, citing the dangers of the moment. “If this election were overturned by mere allegations from the losing side, our democracy would enter a death spiral. We’d never see the whole nation accept the election again,” McConnell said.
McConnell and Pelosi reconvened the joint session at 8 p.m. after officials regained control, and the Electoral College process was confirmed with Pence saying at 3:41 a.m. Thursday, “The announcement of the state of the vote by the president of the Senate shall be deemed a sufficient declaration as persons elected president and vice president of the United States.”
The three Hoosier members who had joined this cabal – U.S. Sen. Mike Braun, U.S. Reps. Jackie Walorski and Jim Banks – were mostly mute, though Banks tweeted a prayer emoji, saying, “Please pray for our country.” Braun reversed himself yet again, voting “no” on the challenge from Arizona around 9:30 p.m.
By late afternoon, as talk turned to Pence invoking the 25th Amendment to spare America the two final weeks of Trump rule, the president tweeted, “These are the things and events that happen when a sacred landslide election victory is so unceremoniously & viciously stripped away from great patriots who have been badly & unfairly treated for so long. Go home with love & in peace. Remember this day forever!”
President Trump, this day will be remembered as the 21st century’s version of a day that will live in infamy.