PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Rhode Island leaders from both major parties are publicly denouncing the unprecedented breach of the U.S. Capitol, as pro-Trump protesters violently broke into the building and forced it into lockdown.
Sens. Jack Reed and Sheldon Whitehouse, along with Reps. Jim Langevin and David Cicilline, all Democrats, reported through social media they were OK Wednesday afternoon, tweeting they were either safe or in safe locations as the protests raged on.
“I’m safe & determined to defend our democracy from these heinous attacks,” Reed tweeted around 3:25 p.m., calling the protesters as “violent mob, incited by Trump.”
Earlier in the day, a pro-Trump rally — where President Trump spoke to supporters — marched on the Capitol building as lawmakers commenced a congressional certification process of Joe Biden’s victory in the presidential election in November.
The protesters immediately breached security barriers outside the building and eventually forced their way into the Capitol, chanting “We want Trump,” “Stop the steal,” and “This is our house.” Protesters faced off with armed Capitol Police as they smashed windows, occupied various offices and broke into the House chambers.
The U.S. Senate recessed and congressional members were moved to other undisclosed locations. Whitehouse, who said he was safe around 3 p.m., added later “I’m mad as hell.”
Langevin also reported he was safe “for the moment,” and was deeply saddened by what happened.
Langevin later spoke with 12 News from his office in Congress, saying he had never experienced anything like what happened Wednesday before in his two decades in Washington.
“There’s never been anything like this on Capitol Hill,” he said. “This is not just a protest — this is a coup attempt.”
Cicilline, the most junior member of the state’s congressional delegation, said he was safe before calling on the president to be impeached again.
“This is outrageous and the president caused it,” Cicilline tweeted. “We should impeach and convict him tomorrow.”
Cicilline, who later spoke with 12 News from his congressional office, called the protesters’ actions “shocking,” saying they disrupted a sacred congressional tradition of certifying an election, which happens every four years.
“The president has sadly been promoting this lie that he was cheated and this was a fraudulent election,” Cicilline said. “These are not patriots. These are domestic terrorists. They are extremists — lawbreakers — who broke into the Capitol and destroyed property, committed crimes and are really trying to undermine the voices of the American people.”
In Rhode Island, Democratic Gov. Gina Raimondo offered her prayers for those involved and for a “peaceful end to this assault on our democracy.”
In Massachusetts, Republican Gov. Charlie Baker condemned the violence and called on Trump and his supporters to do the same.
“The chaos now unfolding is the sad but predictable outcome of weeks of attacks perpetrated by President Trump and his supporters against the democratic process that makes America the greatest nation on earth,” Baker tweeted. “These baseless challenges to President-elect Biden’s victory must stop.”
R.I. Senate President Dominick Ruggerio offered sharp criticism of Trump, saying the president and “his allies, who enable him, have again shown themselves to be dangerous threats to our democracy.”
“They perpetuate a false myth of widespread voter fraud because they don’t like the clear results of the November election,” Ruggerio said in a statement. “President Trump himself incited the assault on democracy that we witnessed this afternoon. This seditious attempt to disrupt the peaceful transfer of power is tantamount to a coup attempt. It is a disgrace. If he had any shame he would be ashamed. My prayers are with everyone in the capitol building today. I look forward with hope to January 20, when the Biden administration will begin the process of healing divisions that have been stoked at every turn by the current president.”
Newly elected House Speaker Joseph Sherkarchi reiterated that the election was over and that people needed to move on and focus on other issues facing the nation.
“The presidential election is over and the people have spoken loudly and clearly,” he said in a statement. “We need to move on. Instead of obsessing about the November election that he lost, President Trump should be focused in his final days in office on the distribution of the badly needed COVID vaccine.”
The protests spurred widespread rebuke from several members of the state’s Republican Party, including former chairman Brandon Bell who called it “domestic terrorism.”
“These violent people have no respect for democracy,” Bell tweeted. “Pure insanity and I’m disgusted by what we are seeing today.”
Current GOP chairperson Sue Cienki did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment.
Rhode Island Republican National Committeeman Steve Frias criticized the protests in Washington, saying “everyone needs to accept that Biden won the election, including President Trump.”
“This is a terrible day in our nation’s history,” Frias said. “The continuation of our republic is more important than a Republican holding on to the presidency.”
It wasn’t immediately clear when congressional hearings might continue, but Langevin told 12 News the certification process could continue later in the day Wednesday.
“The proceedings on the House and Senate floor right now are on pause,” Langevin said. “As I understand it, we will continue to the count later today once the Capitol Police and officials get control of the Capitol complex once again. But I have to say, it did not have to be like this way.”
Massachusetts Congressman Jake Auchincloss, a Democrat, said he and his colleagues were committed to returning to the House floor to certify the results of the presidential election.
“It’s a dark day for our democracy,” he told 12 News during an interview from his congressional office, where he had been in lockdown.
“But we’re not going to let this mob define who we are as a country,” he added.