WASHINGTON — Several members of New Jersey's congressional delegation have reported being safe as a wild, violent scene continued to unfold in the nation's capital on Wednesday.

Protesters stormed the U.S. Capitol, clashing with police and forcing a delay in the constitutional process to affirm President-elect Joe Biden's win. The New York Times reported that protestors trashed House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's office and shattered windows elsewhere in the building.

In what New Jersey's Democratic governor called "one of the darkest days in American history," and what several Garden State congressmen likened to a coup attempt, dozens of people breached security perimeters at the Capitol. Lawmakers inside the House chamber were told to put on gas masks as tear gas was fired in the Rotunda.

Former Gov. Chris Christie, who said he had been trying to get the president on the phone before his appearance on ABC News, blamed Trump for the violence and asked him to end it.

"The president caused this protest to occur; he's the only one who can make it stop," Christie, a Republican friend of Trump, said on television. "The president has to come out and tell his supporters to leave the capitol grounds and leave Congress to do their job.”

Trump did make a brief comment on Twitter but only after the situation had already spiraled out of control.

U.S. Rep. Bill Pascrell Jr., D-N.J. 9th District, called the violence a "coup attempt" by Trump and the Republicans.

"I was on the floor but I am safe with my brave staff. What we are witnessing is an attempted coup directly incited by the criminal in the White House. It will fail," Pascrell said on Twitter.

"While we watch the republican Sedition Caucus try to burn down democracy, just outside us rioting rightwing mobs are attacking police trying to storm the Capitol. These extremists are egged on by trump and republicans’ coup attempt. This is fascism."

U.S. Rep. Donald Norcross, D-N.J. 1st District, also slammed the violence as a "coup" and "riot" incited by Trump.

Just after 3 p.m., U.S. Rep. Tom Malinowksi, D-N.J. 7th District, said he was safe.

"The moment we get the all clear, I say we go right back in the Chamber and finish the damn job,” he tweeted.

U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., said he and his staff were following guidance from D.C. police.

"The scene in the Capitol goes against every value we pledge to uphold as a nation. Democracy will prevail," he said on Twitter.

U.S. Reps. Bonnie Watson Coleman, D-N.J. 12th District, and Andy Kim, D-N.J. 3rd District, and Mikie Serrill, D-N.J. 11th District, also reporting being safe.

"The scenes we're all watching right now at our beautiful Capitol are simply heartbreaking," Kim said online. "I believe in our democracy and what we're seeing is an affront to everything that makes this country great.”

A chaplain prayed as police guarded the doors to the chamber and lawmakers tried to gather information about what was happening, and an announcement was played inside the Capitol as lawmakers were meeting and expected to vote to affirm Biden's victory. Due to an “external security threat,” no one could enter or exit the Capitol complex, the recording said.

Protesters were also seen inside the Senate chamber. One got up on the dais and yelled “Trump won that election.”

Several dozen are roaming through the halls, yelling “Where are they?” according to a pool report.

Congressional leaders were whisked to safety. Vice-President Elect Kamala Harris, who was attending the joint session, and was also said to be safe.

At an earlier rally, Trump had urged his supporters to march to the Capitol. After protesters clashed with law enforcement and breached the Capitol building, Trump tweeted to his supporters to “stay peaceful.”

“Please support our Capitol Police and Law Enforcement,” Trump tweeted, as tear gas was deployed in the locked-down Capitol. “They are truly on the side of our Country. Stay peaceful!”

“We’re going to cheer on our brave senators and congressmen and women, and we’re probably not going to be cheering so much for some of them,” Trump said.

Both chambers abruptly went into recess. The District of Columbia's Mayor, Muriel Bowser, issued a curfew for 6 p.m.

The skirmishes occurred outside in the very spot where president-elect Biden will be inaugurated in just two weeks.

Protesters tore down metal barricades at the bottom of the Capitol’s steps and were met by officers in riot gear. Some tried to push past the officers who held shields and officers could be seen firing pepper spray into the crowd to keep them back. Some in the crowd were shouting “traitors” as officers tried to keep them back.

A suspicious package was also reported in the area, Capitol Police said.

The skirmishes came just shortly after Trump addressed thousands of his supporters, riling up the crowd with his baseless claims of election fraud at a rally near the White House on Wednesday ahead of Congress' vote.

“We will not let them silence your voices,” Trump told the protesters, who had lined up before sunrise to get a prime position to hear the president.

 

Erin Vogt and Dan Alexander contributed to this report.

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