Politics

As rioters storm the Capitol, Vermont officials hold Trump responsible

Vermont’s Republican governor Phil Scott on Wednesday called for President Donald Trump to resign or be removed from office after a group of the president’s supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol.

As pro-Trump rioters broke through barricades and clashed with police in an unprecedented and violent disruption of the U.S. Congress, lawmakers were evacuated from the building, delaying the certification of the 2020 presidential election. All three members of Vermont’s congressional delegation exited the Capitol safely. At least one person was shot and killed, according to news reports

Scott said Trump was responsible for the chaos in Washington, saying he had “orchestrated a campaign to cause an insurrection that overturns the results of a free, fair and legal election.”

“There is no doubt that the president’s delusion, fabrication, self-interest, and ego have led us – step by step — to this very low, and very dangerous, moment in American history,” the governor said.  

“The fabric of our democracy and the principles of our republic are under attack by the president,” Scott added. “Enough is enough. President Trump should resign or be removed from office by his Cabinet, or by the Congress.”

U.S. Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt,. who documented the drama in videos posted to Twitter, also said that Trump “bears maximum responsibility” for the chaos.

“What he’s done is exactly the opposite of what the responsible leader does, and that is accept the will of the people,” Welch told reporters during a conference call Wednesday afternoon. “And he has been inciting people to believe that it is a stolen election from before the actual casting [of] a vote.”

“President Trump more than any other American bears responsibility for what happened here today,” he said. 

In a statement Wednesday evening, Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., called on those who “defiled the Nation’s Capitol” to be “prosecuted for their felonies” and urged his colleagues to resume certifying the election. 

“President Trump doesn’t want to accept defeat, so he instead promotes delusional conspiracy theories and encourages felonies. But the Senate has a job to do,” Leahy said. “We must protect the Constitution and prepare for the new President.  It’s the American way, and the American people deserve nothing less.”

In an interview with the New York Times, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., said that he didn’t believe Trump needed to be removed from office because he’s expected to exit the White House later this month. But the senator called Wednesday “a tragic day for our country.” 

Writing on Twitter later in the evening, Sanders said that “the man directly responsible for the chaos of today is Donald Trump, who has made it clear that he will do anything to remain in power – including insurrection and inciting violence.”

“Trump will go down in history as the worst and most dangerous president in history,” Sanders said. 

‘Maximum apprehension’

Detailing his harrowing evacuation from the Capitol, Welch told reporters that as the House was debating the certification of President-elect Joe Biden’s election on Wednesday afternoon, security rushed House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Democratic Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., out of the chamber. 

Welch said he soon started hearing noise from outside the House chamber, and just after 2:30 p.m. Capitol Police instructed lawmakers to don gas masks.  

Eventually, Welch said, police decided to evacuate members. As the Vermonter was moving through the balcony of the House chamber, police told lawmakers to get on the ground. Police drew their guns and looked down toward the floor of the House, which had already been evacuated. There was a crashing sound. 

“It was right below me, and apparently it was protesters who managed to get all the way through the Capitol,” Welch said.

The congressman said he saw the rioters break through the door with some sort of “implement.” 

“I think that was the moment where maximum apprehension by the police and also by all the members who were lying on the floor,” Welch said. 

At that point police continued to usher lawmakers out of the building — through a network of stairs and tunnels — and to a secure location. 

As he spoke from that location late in the afternoon, Welch said lawmakers would wait until the Capitol was cleared to complete the certification of the 2020 election.  

“This is a terrible day, a terrible day. But when the day ends — it might be well into the morning and tomorrow — this Congress is going to do its job of certifying the decision that the people in this country make about who will be their next president,” Welch said. 

“I am going to be hopeful that with the new leader, we’re going to begin the work of repairing our democracy and undoing the damage of Donald Trump,” he said.

Trump rally
Supporters of President Trump gather outside the Statehouse on the opening day of the Legislature in Montpelier on Wednesday. There were no issues of violence. Photo by Glenn Russell/VTDigger

On the bus — and off

At least one group of Vermonters attended the protests that devolved into Wednesday’s riots, though it was unclear if any of them participated in the breach of the Capitol. Approximately 50 Vermonters made the trip to Washington on a coach bus that left Vermont Tuesday night, dropping participants off at a rally in the capital at 7 a.m. Wednesday. 

Vermont Republican Party chair Deb Billado, who did not take part in the bus trip, said it was pulled together by supporters of the president who believe the election in November had “too many irregularities,” and who didn’t support the outcome.

“They are voicing their outrage to what they are watching unfold across the nation,” she wrote in an email just after 3 p.m. Wednesday. “This is their constitutional right to voice their opinion. They are peaceful people. I suspect they will properly quarantine when they return to Vermont.”

Later, at around 7:30 p.m., Billado released a statement denouncing the riots. She said the Capitol Police should criminally charge those who took part in the violence.

“Their actions do not speak for the Vermont Republican Party and we strongly condemn any such lawlessness, regardless of their political affiliations,” Billado wrote. 

She added that the party supported a statement Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell issued earlier Wednesday in which he opposed efforts to overturn the 2020 election results. 

“The VT Republican Party believes in local control and state's rights.  Overturning the election results which were certified by the individual states is perhaps the most disturbing example of federal over-reach imagined,” she said.  

Later Wednesday, the leaders of all three parties in the Vermont House condemned the chaos in the Capitol. House Speaker Jill Krowinski, D-Burlington, Minority Leader Pattie McCoy, R-Poultney, and Minority Leader Selene Colburn, P-Burlington, issued a joint statement saying they were “appalled to see the violence taking place in Washington, D.C.”

“The First Amendment is foundational to our lives as Americans, and everyone should have the right to express their views, but the forceful takeover of Capitol Hill flies in the face of our democratic values and is completely unacceptable,” they said. 

“Enough is enough. President Trump should resign or be removed from office by his Cabinet, or by the Congress,” said Gov. Phil Scott.

Senate President Pro Tempore Becca Balint, D-Windham, who was sworn in Wednesday morning, wrote on Twitter that evening that the day’s event had left her “feeling anxious, angry, and deeply worried about our Republic.” She said she was “disgusted” by what she called the “complicity” of congressional Republicans and praised Scott for his statement. 

“President Trump is not a defender of democracy,” Balint wrote. “He must resign or be removed from office. Country above party. We must all defend our constitution and stand together.”

Ellie French contributed reporting. 

Hear full audio from Welch's 4 p.m. conference call:

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Xander Landen

About Xander

Xander Landen is VTDigger's political reporter. He previously worked at the Keene Sentinel covering crime, courts and local government. Xander got his start in public radio, writing and producing stories for NPR affiliates including WBUR in Boston and WNYC in New York. While at WNYC, he contributed to an award-winning investigation of how police departments shield misconduct records from the public. He is a graduate of Tufts University and his work has also appeared in PBS NewsHour and The Christian Science Monitor.

Email: [email protected]

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