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Rioters try to break through a police barrier in front of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., on January 6.

Trouble at the U.S. Capitol

After a day of violence, our nation’s lawmakers officially approved the election of Joe Biden as president.

Last updated: January 8, 12:00 p.m. EST

On Wednesday, January 6, the U.S. Congress met at the Capitol in Washington, D.C. Lawmakers were there to officially approve the vote count that would make Joe Biden the next U.S. president. But supporters of President Donald Trump broke into the Capitol to try to stop that from happening. It was unlike any event in modern U.S. history. 

Here’s what you need to know.

Wasn’t Joe Biden already officially elected? 

Not exactly. In November, more than 155 million Americans cast their votes for president—the most in U.S. history. Biden received more than 81 million votes. That was about 7 million more votes than Trump received. 

But in the U.S., voters don’t directly elect the president. Instead, we use a system called the Electoral College. The candidate who receives the most popular votes in a state wins that state’s electoral votes. A candidate who wins at least 270 electoral votes from different states is elected president.

Biden won 306 electoral votes. (Click here to learn more about the Electoral College.) According to the U.S. Constitution, Congress must count the Electoral College votes. That makes the election results official. That is why Congress was meeting on January 6.

What has been President Trump’s response to the election?

For two months, Trump said that he actually won the election. He claimed that there was a lot of voter fraud. But there has been no proof of that. Many states have recounted the votes. Experts on both sides, including people who support President Trump, agree that the election was fair.

What exactly happened at the Capitol on January 6?

President Trump had used Twitter and Facebook to invite people to a large gathering. Thousands of people came from across the country. At this gathering, President Trump continued to falsely claim that he won the election. He encouraged the crowd to “walk down to the Capitol.”

Members of Congress were gathered inside the Capitol. Vice President Mike Pence was in charge of overseeing the counting of the electoral votes. 

The crowd of President Trump’s supporters pushed past police at the Capitol. Dozens broke into the building. The rioters smashed windows and stole items from lawmakers’ offices. Some police officers were injured. One later died as a result of his injuries. One of the rioters was shot and later died.

Pence and the members of Congress had to be moved to a safer place. It took several hours for police to clear out the rioters and make sure the building was safe. Many of the rioters have been arrested.

What happened after the riot?

Lawmakers spoke out against the riot at the Capitol. Many called it an attack on how our country elects its leaders — on our democracy. 

Biden said in a speech Wednesday afternoon, “I am genuinely shocked and sad that our nation, so long the beacon of light and hope for democracy, has come to such a dark moment.”

Even people who supported President Trump expressed horror over what had happened.

Did Congress continue to count the electoral votes?

Yes. On the evening of January 6, members of Congress returned to finish the count. They were determined to show that they couldn’t be stopped from performing their duty.

“To those who wreaked havoc in our Capitol today, you did not win,” Pence said. “Violence never wins. Freedom wins. Let’s get back to work.”

At about 4:00 a.m. the next morning, Congress made Biden’s victory official. According to the Constitution, the next step is for Biden to take the oath of office. This is set to happen on January 20. On that day, Biden will be sworn in as the 46th president of the United States.

How did President Trump react to the riots at the Capitol?

During the riot, President Trump recorded a video telling the protesters to leave the Capitol. But he also told his supporters that he loved them. Many people did not think that response was strong enough

Then, the next day, Trump posted a new video to Twitter. In it, he said that he was “outraged by the violence” and told those who broke the law that they “will pay” for their crimes. He also promised a peaceful change of power. That is when the leader of a government peacefully hands over control to a newly elected leader. 

Has anything like what went on at the Capitol happened before?

America has faced difficult challenges many times before in its history. In the past, and today, people have banded together to speak out against threats to our democracy.

“In America, we always overcome our challenges,” Senator Chuck Schumer of New York said. 

1. What does it mean to you to live in a democracy?

2. What do you think Vice President Pence meant when he said, “Violence never wins. Freedom wins”?

3. Members of Congress worked together, even though many of them disagree on big topics. Why is it important to be able to work with people even when you have differences?

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