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Tennessee Lawmakers Evacuate, Condemn Riot at Capitol

Laura Eakins, via Creative Commons

UPDATED JANUARY 7, 10:30 a.m.  

Members of Tennessee’s House and Senate delegations were evacuated to undisclosed locations Wednesday afternoon, when a mob of pro-Trump extremists stormed the United States Capitol in Washington, D.C. in an armed insurrection.

Tennessee’s nine U.S. Representatives and two U.S. Senators were reported safe during the siege, which took place as the two chambers met to approve electoral votes that confirm Joe Biden’s victory in the November 2020 presidential election. The approval is ordinarily a routine, unremarkable part of a presidential election. But this year, the process was given extra weight and attention by President Donald Trump’s frequent and baseless claims of fraud. He encouraged supporters to gather in Washington for the vote, and in remarks midday Wednesday he encouraged them to walk to the Capitol to support efforts to “take back America.”

Speaking to WPLN’s Sergio Martinez-Beltran, Nashville’s Jim Cooper (D-TN 05) said he and staffers barricaded a door with a desk and hunkered down as the protestors made their way through Statuary Hall, onto the floor of the U.S. Senate and into offices, including that of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

“It’s one thing to be attacked by a foreign power, it’s another thing for our own people to have all this misplaced anger,” Cooper told WPLN. “So the president is trying to claim power, he’s willing to do anything to keep it.”

All Republican members of Tennessee’s Congressional delegation condemned the riot. “The rioting at the U.S. Capitol is disgusting and criminal,” Tim Burchett (R-TN 02) said. “The President needs to publicly tell his supporters to stop or else people are going to get hurt or possibly die.”

Trump did eventually release a video encouraging supporters to go home, but also repeated his false claims of a stolen election. He also praised the rioters, calling them “very special people.”

While Tennessee’s federal lawmakers spoke out against the siege, they have also repeatedly questioned the legitimacy of Biden’s victory. Senators Marsha Blackburn and Bill Hagerty both planned to vote against certifying the electoral vote totals.

“[W]e have concluded without any reservation that we will stand against tainted electoral results from the recent Presidential election,” Blackburn and Hagerty said in a joint statement released January 2.

About two hours before the siege, Hagerty retweeted a pro-Trump account that saluted the protestors. Hagerty said, “Among this crowd are Tennesseans who traveled across the country to support President Donald Trump.”

In an about-face late Wednesday night, Tennessee senators Marsha Blackburn and Bill Hagerty voted to certify Joe Biden's electoral win. Before a pro-Trump mob stormed the Capitol building Wednesday, both senators had vowed to object to the results

U.S. Congressman Tim Burchett, who represents a large part of East Tennessee, upheld his objections to the Electoral College results. He said in a statement, "This is not about President Trump, it is about the United States Constitution and upholding election integrity." No state election officials have reported fraud during the presidential election. Joe Biden's electoral win was certified just before 4 a.m. Thursday morning.

Knox County's Democratic Party issued a statement calling Tennessee's Republican lawmakers complicit in the insurrection, writing they have been "peddling lies about the electoral process."

WUOT's Claire Heddles contributed to this report.