As extremist supporters of President Donald Trump on Wednesday stormed the U.S. Capitol Building and clashed with police in an attempt to overturn the election, members of Maine’s congressional delegation are reporting that they are sheltering in secure locations and safe.
“I’m just so fortunate that I’m not in there,” Democratic U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree told Maine Public Radio, referring to the House chamber that Trump supporters attempted to breach. “My colleagues who are in there were told to just get down and put on a gas mask. They’re tear-gassing protesters outside of the chamber to try and get them out of the building. There’s reports that shots are being fired into the chamber. … It’s scary.”
Staffers for Rep. Jared Golden and U.S. Sens. Angus King and Susan Collins said all three members were also in secure locations somewhere at the Capitol complex.
Pingree said she was in a room outside of the House chamber when the Capitol was breached by the mob. Police clashed with Trump supporters inside the building and began firing tear gas in the Rotunda. Photos of officers with guns drawn inside the House chamber and pointed at broken windows circulated widely on social media, part of a real-time collage of surreal scenes that few Americans would ever expect to see in this country.
“It was certainly incited by the president,” Pingree said. “I listened to him at the protest rally this morning. … He was saying we’re going to march down Pennsylvania Avenue and we’re not accepting defeat.”
Before the breach Trump urged his supporters during a speech to march on the Capitol, telling them he would never concede his election defeat despite roughly 60 failed legal challenges and attempts to pressure state election officials to overturn the results. A mob broke through police lines and stormed the Capitol shortly thereafter.
As Trump extremists stormed the building, Congress was debating certification of the Electoral College results that further solidified President-elect Joe Biden’s win. Trump’s congressional loyalists, carrying out their plan to object to the results, made speeches about the election and obliquely referred to debunked and baseless voter fraud conspiracies, some centering around a plot by the seven-years deceased president of Venezuela, Hugo Chavez.
Sen. James Lankford, R-Oklahoma, was among the objectors siding with the president. His speech in the Senate was cut short when security ordered the chamber cleared.
Collins, who was listening to Lankford's speech, told Maine Public that security teams began ushering senators out of the chamber. She said she and other senators were escorted through tunnels to a secure location.
Collins confirmed that Trump extremists breached the Senate and House chamber and ransacked members' desks. She said her speech rejecting objections to the election results was in her chamber desk — and she doesn't know if it's still there.
Collins also joined Pingree in blaming Trump for the storming of the Capitol.
"The president does bear responsibility for working up the crowd and inciting this mob. It was completely irresponsible," she said.
Matthew Felling, a spokesman for King, said most of the senator’s staff were working off-site because of pandemic restrictions.
Vice President Mike Pence was in the Senate, but was quickly escorted out of the building by the Secret Service. Pence was under pressure from the president to reject the Electoral College results — a power the Vice President does not have. Pence acknowledged that fact in an earlier statement, drawing Trump’s ire via Twitter as the mob marched on the Capitol.
The ensuing breach immediately raised questions over why the mob so easily overwhelmed Capitol Police.
“I don’t know if they underestimated the size of the crowd or the audacity of the crowd,” Pingree said. “I don’t know why there weren’t enough police to stop people as they started coming up the steps into the Capitol. I don’t know.”
Pingree noted that the mob bypassed the Capitol’s typically rigorous security screening stations.
“Because they’re able to get into the building without screening they can have guns on them, they can have any kind of weapons,” she said. “We’ve already had one building evacuated because of a bomb threat.”
As police engaged in a standoff with the mob inside the Capitol, some Republicans called for a peaceful resolution.
“We believe in peaceful protest. The activity seen at the United States Capitol today is completely unacceptable and an affront to our Republican values,” The Maine Republican Party tweeted. “Republicans believe in law and order, our constitution, and our country, not rioting and violence.”
We believe in peaceful protest. The activity seen at the United States Capitol today is completely unacceptable and an affront to our Republican values. Republicans believe in law and order, our constitution, and our country, not rioting and violence. #mepolitics
— Maine GOP (@mainegop) January 6, 2021
The Maine GOP’s statement was swiftly criticized on Twitter. Many noted that the party’s vice chairman, Nick Isgro, has been supporting Trump’s baseless fraud allegations and recently told a conservative radio show host that Trump should not leave the White House after Biden is inaugurated.
“I don’t think there’s any circumstance right now where he should step out of office,” Isgro said.
Isgro also criticized Republicans, including Sen. Collins, who refused to object to Trump’s loss, describing them as “the enemies.”
The truth is, Trump won in a landslide and we’re about to see how deep the fraud goes. https://t.co/gsgWnV5rKo
— Nick Isgro (@MaineMayorNick) November 25, 2020
Former Gov. Paul LePage, the honorary chairman of Trump’s reelection campaign in Maine, released a statement on Facebook calling for an end to the occupation of the Capitol.
“I believe those people who are attempting to occupy our nation’s Capitol building need to leave and go home.”
Gov. Janet Mills, a Democrat, condemned the violence.
“I do not believe what we are seeing today is sanctioned by most Americans; nor do I believe it represents the true character of the American people. But it is a clear and troubling reflection of our fractured nation. The violence must end, and all leaders, of every political stripe, including the President, must forcefully denounce these actions and defend our democracy,”