US Congress in turmoil as Trump supporters breach building

Thousands of supporters of US President Donald Trump have breached the Capitol, where lawmakers were meeting to confirm President-elect Joe Biden’s win.

In dramatic scenes, demonstrators swarmed near the building, as Congress members were escorted out by police.

A joint session of Congress had been counting and confirming electoral college votes but has been suspended and forced into recess.

There are reports of guns drawn in the building and at least one person shot.

A woman was reported to be in a critical condition after receiving a neck injury.

There has been an armed confrontation at the doors of the House of Representatives. Tear gas is reported to have been used.

Protesters were seen marching through the building chanting “We want Trump” and one was photographed in the Senate president’s chair.

A citywide curfew has been declared from 18:00 to 06:00 (23:00 to 11:00 GMT) by Washington DC’s mayor.

Trump’s disruptive legacy

By Laura Trevelyan, BBC News, Washington DC

It’s a wildly dramatic day on Capitol Hill, Shakespearean in scope.

In the dying days of the Trump administration, the fuming president, unable to accept that he’s lost an election, has ordered his faithful followers to march on Congress, as lawmakers certify Joe Biden’s win and loyalist Republicans try to disrupt that process.

Sirens are wailing outside Capitol Hill, and police are swarming everywhere – camouflaged tactical officers are the latest to arrive.

From within the chamber and outside, the party of Trump in its different factions is chanting stop the steal. Mr Trump’s angry and disappointed supporters have quite literally stormed the citadel, breaching the US Capitol building which is now locked down. 

It’s a frightening atmosphere, with police massing on the scene, sirens wailing, people chanting “USA” and screaming at law enforcement. All this as Mr Trump’s loyal vice-president and his Senate majority leader desert him at the 11th hour, and refuse to abandon their adherence to the constitution and subvert the election result. 

Not since Herbert Hoover in 1932 has a president lost the White House, the House of Representatives and the Senate. This alarming scene in Washington as the world watches is Mr Trump’s disruptive legacy.

It’s a tense and volatile atmosphere, and not what a peaceful transfer of power looks like.

What were the protesters targeting?

A joint session of Congress was being held to certify Mr Biden’s election victory on 3 November.

The proceedings are usually brief and ceremonial but Republican lawmakers have been objecting to some results.

Police inside Capitol building
image captionPolice have been taking up position inside the Capitol building

For days Mr Trump had also been putting pressure on Vice-President Mike Pence, who is presiding over the session, to block certification of the result.

But in a letter to Congress on Wednesday, Mr Pence said that he had no “unilateral authority to decide which electoral votes should be counted”.

The protesters arrived at the Capitol from a “Save America Rally”, where Mr Trump had urged them to support those legislators opposing Mr Biden’s confirmation.https://emp.bbc.com/emp/SMPj/2.36.7/iframe.htmlmedia captionTrump: “If [Pence] doesn’t come through, I won’t like him quite as much”

Mr Trump has refused to concede the 3 November election, repeatedly alleging fraud without providing any evidence.

On Wednesday, he said again: “We will never give up. We will never concede.”

He has also tried to throw doubt on the integrity of Tuesday’s Senate run-off votes in the southern, traditionally Republican, state of Georgia. Projections by US TV networks suggest the Democrats have won one of the seats and are neck-and-neck for the second seat.

If the Democrats win both they will gain effective control of the Senate – something that will help Mr Biden push forward his agenda after he is inaugurated as president on 20 January.

US Congress set to certify Joe Biden victory amid pro-Trump protests

US lawmakers have gathered for what could be a volatile session to confirm Joe Biden as president, with Donald Trump’s supporters also gathered to protest against the election result.

Supporters of US President Donald Trump gather for a rally in Freedom Plaza
image captionSupporters of Donald Trump gather in Washington ahead of the Congress session

A joint session of Congress is counting and confirming electoral college votes.

The proceedings are usually brief and ceremonial but Republican lawmakers have now objected to some results, triggering a lengthy debate and vote.

But any attempts to block Mr Biden’s victory are almost certain to fail.

For days Mr Trump has also been putting pressure on Vice-President Mike Pence, who is presiding over the session, to block certification of the result.

But in a letter to Congress on Wednesday, Mr Pence said that he had no “unilateral authority to decide which electoral votes should be counted”.

Nevertheless, Mr Trump is making a final stand against the certification of his defeat.

Thousands gathered in Washington DC for a “Save America Rally”, with Mr Trump addressing them. He urged them to march to the Capitol building to support those legislators opposing Mr Biden’s confirmation.

Hundreds of National Guard members and police officers have been mobilised in case there is trouble between opposing protesters.

Donald Trump addresses supporters in Washington
image captionDonald Trump addresses supporters, telling them “we will never concede”

Mr Trump has refused to concede the 3 November election, repeatedly alleging fraud without providing any evidence.

On Wednesday, he said again: “We will never give up. We will never concede.”

He has also tried to throw doubt on the integrity of Tuesday’s Senate run-off votes in the southern, traditionally Republican, state of Georgia. Projections by US TV networks suggest the Democrats have won one of the seats and are neck-and-neck for the second seat.

If the Democrats win both they will gain effective control of the Senate – something that will help Mr Biden push forward his agenda after he is inaugurated as president on 20 January.

What will happen in Congress?

The two houses of Congress – the House of Representatives and the Senate – will hold a joint session on Wednesday, where they will open sealed certificates from the 50 US states containing a record of their electoral votes.

Under the US system, voters cast their ballots for “electors”, who in turn formally vote for the candidates weeks after the election. Mr Biden received 306 votes under the electoral college system, to Mr Trump’s 232.

The proceedings are scheduled to begin at 13:00 local time (1800 GMT).

Bipartisan representatives from the two chambers will read out the results on Wednesday and do an official count.

There is a split in the Republican party, with dozens of House Republicans and a smaller group of Senators expected to object to the count from some of the key swing states.

Ted Cruz is leading a group of about a dozen senators calling for a 10-day delay to audit unsubstantiated allegations of election fraud.

Mr Pence – who as president of the Senate is due to declare Mr Biden the winner – earlier said he welcomed this move.

He stopped short of repeating allegations of fraud but his chief of staff said Mr Pence shared what he called “the concerns of millions of Americans about voter fraud and irregularities”.https://emp.bbc.com/emp/SMPj/2.36.7/iframe.htmlmedia captionTrump: “If [Pence] doesn’t come through, I won’t like him quite as much”

Objections that are endorsed by a member of the House of Representatives and a member of the Senate must be considered by lawmakers in a two-hour debate, followed by a vote.

However, for an objection to be upheld, a majority in both chambers must vote in favour. Republicans hold the majority in the Senate but some of their members have already said they will not contest the results. Democrats are in the majority in the House.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has already recognised Mr Biden’s victory and asked other Republicans not to object.

What about the protests?

Thousands of supporters of Mr Trump have joined the rallies in Washington, with Mr Trump addressing them near the White House on Wednesday.

He repeated unsubstantiated claims of election fraud and also turned on “weak Republicans” who had failed to support his allegations.

Officials had warned Trump supporters not to carry guns.

Police on Monday arrested the leader of the far-right Proud Boys, charging him with destruction of property related to a previous protest. Enrique Tarrio was later released but a judge ordered him to stay out of Washington.

Mr Tarrio has said on the social media app Parler that the Proud Boys will “turn out in record numbers”.

The National Guard has been asked by Washington DC’s mayor to help with crowd management and traffic control.

Covid: US Congress passes long-awaited deal for coronavirus aid

The US Congress has passed a long-awaited $900bn (£660bn) package of coronavirus pandemic aid after months of political wrangling.

Senators approved the bill late on Monday, hours after it was passed by the House of Representatives.

The aid includes direct payments for many Americans and support for businesses and unemployment programmes.

The money is to accompany a bigger, $1.4tn spending bill to fund government operations over the next nine months.

President Donald Trump is expected to sign the package into law quickly.

President-elect Joe Biden welcomed the relief package but said Congress needed to get to work to support his Covid-19 relief plan in the new year View original tweet on Twitter

Grey lines

In the House, the bill passed by a vote of 359 to 53 and in the Senate it passed by 92-6.

Many Covid-19 relief programmes were set to expire at the end of the month and about 12 million Americans were at risk of losing access to unemployment benefits.

But some lawmakers said they felt blind-sided by being asked to vote on a mammoth bill without even having a chance to read it.

At nearly 5,600 pages, the legislation was described by the Associated Press news agency as “the longest bill in memory and probably ever”.

What is in the package?

The stimulus includes one-off $600 payments to most Americans, and will boost unemployment payments by $300 per week, extending expiration dates for the jobless programmes until the spring. 

It also contains more than $300bn in support for businesses, and money for vaccine distribution, schools and tenants facing eviction.

The package includes an extension of an eviction moratorium that was due to expire at the end of this month, leaving tens of millions of Americans at risk of being thrown out of their homes. It contains $25bn in rental aid.

The bill also has a provision to end surprise medical billing – where hospital patients get slapped with fees because they were treated by a doctor who was not covered by their health insurer. President Trump has championed calls to end these stealth fees, which are one of the most unpopular pitfalls of the US healthcare system.

The deal was announced on Sunday by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican. Speaking on Monday ahead of the vote, he said: “None of us think this legislation is perfect, but a big bipartisan majority of us recognise the incredible amount of good it will do when we send it to the president’s desk. The American people have waited long enough.”

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, both Democrats, said the package delivered “urgently needed funds to save the lives and livelihoods of the American people as the virus accelerates”.

Who will get the $600 cheques?

Lawmakers said the bill would send $600 per adult or child for individuals earning up to $75,000 or married couples earning up to $150,000, with families earning more receiving less. 

The first cheques could arrive as soon as next week, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said.

The payment is half the amount that Congress approved for direct payments during the first round of pandemic relief last spring. 

What is not in the bill?

The bill does not include substantial aid to local governments, which had been a top priority for many Democrats. In exchange, Republicans agreed to accept a deal without legal protections for businesses from Covid-related lawsuits.

Mr Schumer said the package would “establish a floor, not a ceiling, for coronavirus relief in 2021”, and that Democrats would push for more aid after President-elect Joe Biden took office on 20 January. 

Congress had been expected to pass the bill by Friday, but negotiations continued through the weekend.

The delays led to concerns over whether the government would shut down without a spending bill. Washington has been operating on temporary funding since October, the start of the federal government’s financial year.

How are Americans reacting?

Economic analysts welcomed the deal, but have warned that it is probably too small and arrives too late to avert a slowdown in the recovery.

They have also expressed concerns that money devoted to the stimulus cheques – which some families are likely to save – takes away from other, more targeted programmes that might provide a more effective boost to the economy.

“Any Covid relief bill is better than no Covid relief bill, but the measures set to be passed by Congress… do not represent the most efficient use of the $900bn total cost,” wrote Ian Shepherdson of Pantheon Macroeconomics.

However, on social media, many said the cheque should have been larger, saying $600 per person wasn’t large enough to help meaningfully.

“$600 will hopefully save some lives but we all know it’s just barely scraping by,” wrote one social media user in California. View original tweet on Twitter

“I’m so excited about the $600 stimulus checks I can’t even decide if I’m going to pay rent for the right side of my bedroom or the left!!!” Jack in New York joked. View original tweet on Twitter

“It’s infuriating to see what every other major country around the world had done for their citizens and our elected officials give us scraps,” another user commented.

Some also noted that many pandemic relief schemes have been plagued by fraud or delays in spending the money.

What about previous aid?

In March the US approved more than $2.4tn in economic relief, including one-off $1,200 stimulus payments, funds for businesses and money to boost weekly unemployment payments by $600.

The package was credited with cushioning the economic hit of the pandemic, which cast more than 20 million Americans out of work this spring and drove the unemployment rate up to 14.7% in April.

The US has regained about half of the jobs lost, but economists and businesses have been pushing Congress to approve further economic relief, as programmes expired and money ran out, prompting recovery to slow.

Nearly eight million more Americans are now living in poverty. This year has seen the biggest single year increase since poverty tracking began 60 years ago.