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Stefanik objects to electors after Capitol riot

She voted no to Pennsylvania's electors, yes to Arizona's

In this image from video, Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-N.Y., speaks as the House reconvenes to debate the objection to confirm the Electoral College vote from Arizona, after protesters stormed into the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday. (House Television via AP)

North Country Rep. Elise Stefanik objected to electors from Pennsylvania but voted to confirm electors from Arizona in an overnight joint congressional session in which the House and Senate approved Joe Biden and Kamala Harris as president and vice president.

Stefank had planned to object to electors from three more states — Georgia, Michigan and Wisconsin — but she did not get the chance, as the violent insurrection of pro-Donald Trump supporters earlier Wednesday made several senators second-guess the decision to continue to object to Biden’s confirmation. An objection needs both a House and Senate member to sign off on it for the two chambers to enter debate over the objection.

Every objection had at least one senator’s signature that morning, but Sens. Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee, Kelly Loeffler of Georgia, James Lankford of Oklahoma and Steve Daines of Montana had a change of mind due to the invasion of the Capitol they witnessed earlier that day.

These mid-day changes threw a wrench in the plans for House Republicans, most of whom stuck by their plans to object to electors from several key contested states. Without a senator, however, objections to Georgia, Michigan, Wisconsin and Nevada didn’t have a chance.

Break-in

The session was interrupted Wednesday afternoon while the House and Senate were meeting separately to debate an objection to the electors from Arizona. Legislators, including Stefanik, took shelter behind their seats and donned gas masks as reports of tear gas spread before being evacuated from the chamber floors as pro-Trump rioters broke into the Capitol building, fighting police, destroying and looting property and waving Trump, American and Confederate flags.

The protestors were fresh off hearing Trump speak at the Ellipse park a few hours earlier, in which he told them “We will never give up,” and they were angry that Congress was poised to confirm Biden as the winner of the election.

A Capitol Police officer shot one Trump supporter as she attempted to climb through the broken glass of a door. She was a 35-year-old Air Force veteran from Southern California and a follower of the QAnon conspiracy theory.

Resuming

Police eventually pushed the rioters out of the Capitol building. When Congress reconvened at 9 p.m., it resumed its debate of the Arizona electors.

Stefanik spoke objecting to electors from certain states in a speech in that session but voted to certify electors from the state of Arizona, which was not one of the four states for which she said she would object.

The Arizona objection, the first vote on objections of the day, was denied 121 to 303 in the House at around 11 p.m.

Stefanik later voted to object to electors from Pennsylvania. This objection was also denied 138 to 282 in the House at 3:08 a.m. Both of these objections also failed in the Senate.

At around 3:30 a.m. on Thursday, Vice President Mike Pence, the president of the Senate who presides over the Electoral College session, declared Biden and Harris the winners.

In 2016, Biden was the outgoing vice president and had presided over the count that declared Trump and Pence the winners.

Stefanik’s speech

“I rise with a heavy heart,” Stefanik began her speech at around 9 p.m. “This has been a truly tragic day for America.”

She said Americans always have freedom of speech and the right to protest, but she condemned violence and destruction.

“But violence in any form is absolutely unacceptable. It is un-American and must be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law,” Stefanik said.

Stefanik said she appreciates the deliberation over electors her fellow Republicans brought.

“This peaceful debate serves as a powerful condemnation to the violence that perpetrated our capital grounds today, the violence that was truly un-American,” she said.

Stefanik said representatives in the House stood for three fundamental American beliefs: that the right to vote is sacred, that a representative has a duty to represent their constituents and that the rule of law is a hallmark of the nation. In a twist, she revealed these were the words of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, spoken in the chamber when her fellow Democrats objected to the 2005 Electoral College certification of George W. Bush.

Stefanik said there have been Democratic objections to nearly every Republican president in her lifetime. This is nearly true. No Democrat objected to the 1988 election of George H.W. Bush, according to the New York Times.

Stefanik said many in her district and across the United States are concerned that the 2020 election featured constitutional overreach by unelected state officials and judges ignoring state election laws and changing election rules. She cited electoral irregularities in Pennsylvania, Georgia, Wisconsin and Michigan as reasons for her objection, saying state bureaucrats illegally changed state voting laws. She said her opposition to these electors is meant to rebuild Americans’ faith in elections.

“My constituents support me in that objection,” Stefanik said during a Tuesday interview on “Fox and Friends.”

But many of her constituents did not support her. On Wednesday morning a group of activists brought a letter to Stefanik’s Plattsburgh office criticizing her decision to object, which was signed by more than 1,700 residents of New York’s 21st Congressional District.

The letter was delivered by artist, writer and historian Nell Painter, attorney Thomas Terrizzi and John Brown Lives! Executive Director Martha Swan. It requested Stefanik to “honor the results of the presidential election and denounce the shenanigans that threaten our democratic institutions.”

Split party

Republicans took several different positions during the session. Some arrived that morning with minds set on objecting, and others had their minds set on confirming. Some changed their decisions — from objecting to confirming — halfway through the day.

This was evident in the speaker directly after Stefanik. Texas Rep. Chip Roy, another Republican, opposed the objections, as he had planned to do. He called them an attack on the American republic itself as well as a “fit of populous rage.”

“That vote may well sign my political death warrant, but so be it,” Roy said.

Roy’s views are strongly conservative, as he detailed on the House floor, but he, like many GOP senators, said objecting to electors set a precedent he did not like for future elections.

“If more than a trivial block of this body votes to reject the sovereign state’s electors, it will irrevocably empower Congress to take over the selection of presidential electors and doing so will almost certainly guarantee future Houses will vote to reject the electors of Texas or any of our states for whatever reason,” Roy said. “The president should have never spun up certain Americans to believe something that simply cannot be.”