New Mexico delegation sheltering as chaos unfolds at U.S. Capitol
WASHINGTON — New Mexico's congressional delegation are sheltering Wednesday after chaos enfolded the United States Congress as it debated a challenge to the Nov. 3 presidential election.
As lawmakers debated an objection to certifying the electoral votes cast by Arizona for Democrat Joe Biden, crowds of people who had amassed outside the Capitol in support of U.S. President Donald Trump breached security entered the building and ultimately penetrated at least one of the chambers.
All five members of New Mexico's congressional delegation have reported that they are sheltering safely either in their offices or in other undisclosed locations.
This morning, the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate met in a joint session to certify each state's electoral votes for president and vice-president in the Nov. 3, 2020 election.
The procedure is often routine business, but this year congressional Republicans in both chambers signaled they would object to the certification of certain states that had voted for Biden, citing unsubstantiated claims of widespread election fraud.
Ahead of the session, President Donald Trump addressed a rally outside the capital calling on Vice-President Mike Pence, who presides over the Senate, to overturn the election, which Trump lost to Biden.
Lawmakers had withdrawn from the joint session and begun debating Arizona's electoral votes when Trump supporters broke through security and entered the building, where chaos ensued, including gunfire and tear gas outside House and Senate chambers.
U.S. Rep Debra Haaland, D-N.M., whom President-elect Biden has selected as his Interior Secretary nominee, posted a video to Twitter during the melee saying she was sheltering in her office with a staff member.
"I am here today to affirm the will of the people and to fulfill my constitutional duty, as are all of my colleagues," she said.
New Mexico's two U.S. Senators, Martin Heinrich and Ben Ray Luján, both Democrats, were sheltering in undisclosed locations, according to staff members.
Heinrich subsequently tweeted: "This is not how we do things in America. Please know that we are not going to rest until we restore our Democracy. None of this insanity does anything to change the outcome of the election. When order is restored, we are going to go back and do our jobs and certify the election."
Heinrich is now New Mexico's senior senator, after Tom Udall left the Senate to be succeeded by Luján.
Luján relinquished his seat in the U.S. House, where he had ranked high in the Democratic leadership, to run for the open seat in 2020.
On Tuesday, looking ahead to Wednesday's session, Luján told the Las Cruces Sun-News that efforts to overturn the 2020 election would inevitably fail.
"The presidential election has been certified by Republican secretaries of state, by Republican governors and by Democratic (counterparts) in everyone of our 50 states across the United States of America," he said. "More than 80 judges including judges appointed by President Donald Trump have rejected the president's attempts and those of his allies to subvert the will and the voice of the American people."
The Associated Press reports that New Mexico's Capitol building in Santa Fe has been "largely evacuated" as hundreds of Trump supporters gathered outside for protests described as peaceful.
Democratic state House Speaker Brian Egolf told the AP the evacuation was ordered by New Mexico State Police, though some officials remained inside and no threats or violence had been reported.
As scenes unfolded of crowds marching through the halls of Congress with flags supporting Trump and disrupting proceedings, former U.S. Rep. Xochitl Torres Small, the Democrat who represented New Mexico's 2nd congressional district from 2019 through 2020, tweeted: "...this is not a peaceful protest — it is a riot."
Torres Small, who lost her run for a second term to Republican Yvette Herrell, called on the leadership of both parties to "immediately unite behind the results of a legitimate election."
Herrell, who is among the House Republicans signaling that they would challenge the certification of Biden's electoral win, called the violence and disruption "entirely unacceptable" in a tweet saying she, too, was safe; and she called on rioters to "allow Congress to continue its business as the Constitution requires."
Herrell and Torres Small first competed for the southern New Mexico House seat in 2018. Torres Small, a first time candidate from Las Cruces, won by a slim margin of victory that was delivered by a large number of absentee ballots in two counties, including her home county of Doña Ana.
Herrell maintained that the election had been "stolen" and impounded the ballots to conduct an independent audit, which found minor irregularities but not enough to alter the outcome. Herrell did not formally contest the election but repeated her attacks on the election's integrity during her 2020 campaign.
U.S. Rep Teresa Leger Fernandez, newly elected in New Mexico's 3rd congressional district, tweeted that she was safe and added, "Violent thugs encouraged by a desperate loser won’t get their way."
As reports of violence in DC continued to come in, New Mexico Republicans responded with statements rejecting the chaos.
In a terse statement, New Mexico GOP Chairman Steve Pearce wrote, "The Republican Party of New Mexico condemns the acts of violence happening at the U.S. Capitol. While we support the right for free speech and to demonstrate peacefully, such violence and threatening actions cannot be tolerated."
And the New Mexico House Republican leadership issued this statement: "New Mexico House Republicans condemn violence in any form. Our American values are important, our Constitution must be preserved and it is within each of our rights to peacefully protest, however violence is not acceptable."
In their own response, New Mexico House Democrats stated, "We need leaders to speak with a unified voice and condemn any and all violence. We are a nation of laws, not anarchy. The 2020 election results represent the will of American and New Mexico voters. These actions of sedition must end.”
Earlier this afternoon, Biden made a statement before reporters calling the riots an "insurrection" and calling on Trump to make a television appearance immediately telling his supporters to go home.
Trump did that, via Twitter, in a speech urging "law and order" yet stating, once again, his false claim that the election "was stolen from us" and "fraudulent."
Twitter immediately blocked the video from replies or retweets "due to a risk of violence."
It was more than a risk: multiple news outlets reported that a woman was shot at the Capitol, with multiple reports of gunfire, teargas and fist fights inside and outside. A 6 p.m. curfew has been imposed in Washington and the D.C. National Guard has been activated.