Rep. Elise M. Stefanik, R-Schuylerville, rose to speak on the floor of the House of Represen…
WASHINGTON — Rep. Elise M. Stefanik was just about to speak on the House floor as Trump supporters besieged the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday. She was prepared to share her objections to certifying electoral results in four states, as she and several Republican lawmakers had promised in the weeks leading up to the congressional certification of the Electoral College ballots when the Capitol was overrun.
“I was actually on deck to give my speech, so I was seated towards the center of the chamber,” Rep. Stefanik, R-Schuylerville, said Thursday morning.
It was about 2:15 p.m. when she was preparing to object to the electoral votes from Pennsylvania, Georgia, Wisconsin and Michigan, over how each state handled the presidential election.
Rep. Stefanik said she noticed something was wrong Wednesday when Speaker of the House Nancy P. Pelosi, D-Calif. and other leaders were rushed out of the chamber.
“The way she was removed was not normal,” she said, “and then Steve Scalise, who is minority whip, was seated behind me, and he was removed from the chamber, so it was very clear that something was not right.”
By now the mob was in the building, overrunning the Capitol Police, but what was unfolding outside the doors remained unknown by most in the session. She said debate continued for a few minutes until Capitol Police returned to the chamber to lock the doors.
The scariest moment, she said, was when she was preparing to stand to speak. A colleague told her to take shelter. Hide behind the seats, she was told.
“The next announcement was that we had gas masks under our seats, which I didn’t even know that’s where the gas masks are, and we were told to take out the gas masks and that there had been tear gas released in Statuary Hall,” she said. “You could also start to hear very concerning sounds, they started barricading the doors. It was very, very scary.”
Rep. Stefanik said she and her colleagues were locked into the House chamber until Capitol Police led them out, through the tunnels that connect the Capitol with the surrounding legislative office buildings.
She said she stuck with Republican Rep. Lee M. Zeldin, who represents New York’s 1st Congressional District, as they made their way back to the Rayburn office building.
“As we were in the tunnel, getting out, that’s when the shots were fired, that I later found out from a Capitol Police officer running, hearing on the radio, that shots were fired at the Capitol,” she said. “It had just been prior that there were members in the House chamber.”
None of Rep. Stefanik’s staff were hurt. She found them all in her office.
“As I’m describing it now, looking back, it didn’t really settle down until about 4 p.m., and it was still a very uncertain time, we were told to stay locked in our offices,” she said.
Congress reconvened after 8 p.m. with debate over Arizona’s electoral votes resuming in each chamber.
In her speech, shortly after the House resumed, Rep. Stefanik thanked the Capitol Police for their work protecting the Capitol during the mob invasion.
Those who broke into the Capitol are “violent criminals” who should be “prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law,” she said, noting the Capitol Police saved lives.
Rep. Stefanik said her perspective was different than what viewers saw on television.
“We were locked in the chamber,” she said. “Some of the footage that people saw tuning into network television was very different than the vantage point I had. From my vantage point, there was a lot of confusion.”
Democratic congressional leadership quickly blamed President Donald J. Trump for inciting the violence. He hosted a rally near the White House continuing his claims that the election was fraudulent, telling protesters to march to the Capitol.
“We are going to cheer on our brave senators and congressmen and women,” the president said. “And we are probably not going to be cheering so much for some of them, because you will never take back our country with weakness.”
Members on both sides of the aisle have condemned the president’s actions, saying he did not do enough to stop the mob from becoming violent.
“I think the president has to be much clearer with the American people that he condemns any form of violence,” Rep. Stefanik said. “I do also think it’s important to note that the violent perpetrators and the mob that sieged the Capitol is not representative of the vast majority of people that were in Washington, D.C.”
Her constituents participated in constitutionality-protected protests, she said.
“What is not a constitutional right is committing violent acts, which is what we saw yesterday by the individuals that breached the Hill,” she said.
Conspiracy theories have arisen, claiming the people who broke into the Capitol were members of the left-wing group Antifa, rather than supporters of Mr. Trump. Rep. Stefanik said she would not speculate on motivations of the people who broke into the Capitol.
While it was a sad day for America, she is proud Congress resumed, carrying out its duty. The election was eventually certified in President-elect Joseph R. Biden’s favor.
When back in session Rep. Stefanik and other House GOP members carried on with their objection to electoral votes of Pennsylvania, Georgia, Wisconsin and Michigan once the House returned to debate.
“Tens of millions of Americans are concerned that the 2020 election features unconstitutional overreach by unelected state officials and judges ignoring state election laws,” she said after debate resumed. “We can and we should peacefully and respectfully discuss these concerns.”
She said Pennsylvania’s state Supreme Court and secretary of state “unilaterally and unconstitutionally” amended election law to eliminate signature matching requirements. For Georgia, Rep. Stefanik said the state’s secretary of state eliminated signature matching requirements, which she said was essentially eliminating state-mandated voter verification.
In Wisconsin, she said officials circumvented state law requiring absentee voters to provide photo ID before receiving a ballot.
According to Wisconsin state law, a voter’s first absentee ballot application must contain a copy of an acceptable photo ID, but those who are indefinitely confined due to illness or disability do not need to provide a photo ID, they may simply sign their ballot instead.
The Wisconsin state Supreme Court ruled that each voter was able to independently decide if they qualified as “indefinitely confined,” and those that were confined due to the pandemic could consider themselves confined.
In Michigan, Rep. Stefanik said there are thousands of signed affidavits that indicate election officials physically blocked legal poll-watchers from observing vote counts. She said Michigan officials also illegally counted late ballots, and hand-stamped ballots with prior dates to make them appear legal. The Detroit Free Press has reported there is not evidence to support the claims.
“These are hundreds and hundreds, I think over 1,000 individuals who signed affidavits, so they should be taken very seriously,” she said.
Rep. Stefanik said it was important to continue debate over the issue of certifying the election results.
“One of the greatest ways we can condemn the violence is to have a peaceful debate or discussion, which is what we had,” she said. “I stand by my decision to object.”
Rep. Stefanik said, for every Republican president elected in her lifetime, a Democratic member of the House has objected to Electoral College certification, which she said sets precedent.
Democrats have objected to Republican presidential electors. In 2005, after President George W. Bush was re-elected, both a senator and a representative objected to Ohio’s electoral votes, leading to a two-hour debate. Then, 31 members of the House, and one member of the Senate, voted to reject Ohio’s electoral votes. The measure failed, and Ohio’s votes were counted.
“In the case of last night, there were really only two states where senators and House members had both objected, that was Arizona and Pennsylvania, so I voted according to my announcement,” she said.
Rep. Stefanik said she would like to see a bipartisan commission prepare best practices for states to officiate elections.
While Democratic leadership has called for Mr. Trump to be removed from office in the wake of the Capitol siege, Rep. Stefanik disagrees.
Her spokesperson said the congresswoman is “vehemently opposed.”
“The Electoral College was certified for President-Elect Joe Biden, and President Donald Trump issued a statement to ensure his commitment to a peaceful transfer of power,” the spokesperson said Thursday.
Since Mr. Trump called Rep. Stefanik a “rising Republican star” following her defense of him during the November 2019 impeachment hearings, Rep. Stefanik has become a frequent guest on national media outlets like Fox News, as well as accompanying the president to Camp David and to his first campaign rally of the 2020 election. She said she plans to continue her appearances on national television, citing the popularity of national outlets with her constituents.
“The amount of feedback I get directly from constituents who are watching Fox, or they watch local news too, you have to reach people where they are, and there’s a lot of viewers in my district who really liked to see those updates,” she said.
Regardless of how Mr. Trump leaves office, he is leaving, and after Wednesday’s events, he leaves his party with questions over their next steps. Rep. Stefanik said she believes she has always worked with her north country constituency first, and will continue to do so.
“I’ve really been honored for the opportunity to make sure that the north country has a seat at the highest level of our nation’s government, and whether it’s working with the president or working with my colleagues in Congress to get things done for the district,” she said. “That’s what I’m going to continue to do.”