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Shelby urges passage of new omnibus spending deal

Brandon Moseley

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Wednesday, U.S. Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Alabama, announced the filing of the Fiscal Year 2018 appropriations bill and urged passage of legislation that would provide critical funding for the U.S. Departments of Commerce and Justice, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, and the National Science Foundation.

“This is a strong bill that provides significant support for my priorities on the Commerce, Justice, and Science subcommittee, such as law enforcement, national security, economic development, scientific research, and space exploration,” Shelby said. “Furthermore, it will rebuild and strengthen our military with the biggest increase in defense funding in 15 years, while also creating opportunities to renew America’s aging infrastructure throughout the nation. I urge my colleagues to join me in supporting this bipartisan bill.”

The FY2018 Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies Appropriations Bill reached an enormous $59.6 billion. That is $3.05 billion above the FY2017 enacted level. The bill fund federal law enforcement agencies, state and local law enforcement grants, space exploration, basic science research, economic development programs, trade enforcement, and ocean observations and weather forecasting.

The bill funds the U.S. Department of Commerce at $11.1 billion an increase of $1.9 billion over FY2017, to focus on core economic development activities, protecting intellectual property rights, strengthening trade enforcement, advancing cybersecurity research, and improving severe weather forecasting.

The bill includes $301.5 million for the Economic Development Administration (EDA). This is a $25.5 million increase over FY2017. Increased funding expands the Public Works program to support brick-and-mortar projects in communities across the country and broadband infrastructure and access to unserved areas of the country. The bill also provides $30 million in grants to assist troubled coal mining communities.

National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) – $1.2 billion for NIST, $247 million above the FY2017 enacted level. This amount includes a $10 million increase over the FY2017 level for the NIST Manufacturing Extension Partnership. Targeted funding will continue to support our nation’s cybersecurity posture through cutting-edge research, expanded advanced manufacturing opportunities, and the promotion of high quality standards to maintain fairness in the marketplace.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) receives $5.9 billion, which is $234 million above the FY2017 enacted level. The bill provides full funding for NOAA’s flagship weather satellites, which are critical for accurate weather warnings to protect lives and property. Increased funding is provided for the National Weather Service to address failing infrastructure at its Weather Forecast Offices across the country.

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The bill also includes increased funding for our nation’s fisheries. This includes continued support for more accurate and agency-independent data and language allowing NOAA to experiment with alternative management regimes. Provisions in the bill promise to help expand opportunities for American commercial and recreational fishermen.

The bill funds the Department of Justice (DOJ) at $30.3 billion, $1.3 billion above the FY2017 enacted level. The constantly-changing landscape of criminal activity at home and abroad tests the DOJ’s ability to deal with emerging threats. The bill reportedly ensures that federal law enforcement agencies work together to focus limited resources in a manner that safeguards taxpayer dollars while preserving public safety.

Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR) receives $504.5 million which is, $64.5 million above the FY2017 enacted level, including funding for at least 100 new Immigration Judge (IJ) Teams to help reduce the extensive and growing backlog of pending immigration cases.

The bill funds the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) at $9.03 billion, which is a $263 million increase above the FY2017 enacted level. Within funding provided, the FBI is expected to enhance its investigative and intelligence efforts related to terrorism, national security, human trafficking, and cyber threats, while also enforcing U.S. criminal laws. The bill directs the FBI to ensure full funding for the operations of the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS), and to review protocols associated with communication and information sharing between the Public Access Line and FBI field offices.

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The bill also funds law enforcement grant programs at $2.9 billion for DOJ State and Local Law Enforcement Activities, including the Office on Violence Against Women, juvenile justice programs, and community crime prevention grant programs. The bill contains $330 million to fund the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act of 2016 (CARA) grant program, a $227 million increase over FY2017, and $32 million for Community Oriented Policing Services’ (COPS) anti-heroin task forces grants. Overall, a $299.5 million increase in grant funding is provided above the FY2017 level to combat the opioid and heroin crisis. The bill also contains $415.5 million for Byrne Justice Assistance Grants (JAG) and $177.5 million for initiatives to address rape kit and other DNA evidence backlogs. DOJ is directed to require all applicants for Byrne-JAG, COPS, and State Criminal Alien Assistance Program (SCAAP) grants to certify that they are in compliance with all applicable federal laws, including immigration laws.

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) receives $20.7 billion, a $1.1 billion increase above the FY2017 enacted level and $1.6 billion above the budget request, to support the human and robotic exploration of space, fund science missions that enhance the understanding of the Earth, the solar system, and the universe, and support fundamental aeronautics research. This includes: $2.15 billion for the Space Launch System (SLS), which is $212 million above the request; $1.3 billion for the Orion crewed spacecraft, $164 million above the request, to continue development of NASA’s next deep-space crewed capsule; $760 million for Space Technology, $74 million above the FY2017 enacted level to advance projects in early stages of development that are expected to demonstrate capabilities needed for future space exploration; $100 million is provided for Education programs that were proposed to be eliminated in the budget request. NASA EPSCoR is funded at $18 million, Space Grant is funded at $40 million, the Minority University Research and Education Project is funded at $32 million, and STEM Education and Accountability Projects are funded at $10 million.

Shelby is the Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies (CJS). He has served Alabama in the U.S. Senate since his 1986 election and in the Congress since his election representing Alabama’s 7th Congressional District in 1978.

Brandon Moseley is a senior reporter with over nine years at Alabama Political Reporter. During that time he has written 8,297 articles for APR. You can email him at [email protected] or follow him on Facebook. Brandon is a native of Moody, Alabama, a graduate of Auburn University, and a seventh generation Alabamian.

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Health

Fed’s promised additional COVID-19 doses to states not coming

An Alabama Department of Public Health spokesman said the federal government’s inconsistent flow of vaccines makes planning difficult.

Eddie Burkhalter

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It was unclear Friday just how the federal government’s failure to deliver promised additional doses of COVID-19 vaccines to states might impact Alabama’s plan to expand vaccinations starting Monday, but the Alabama Department of Public Health is concerned about the state’s supply. 

Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar on Tuesday announced the federal government would no longer hold back second doses of vaccines and instead send them out to states, in a push to get states to expand vaccinations to larger groups. 

But when that statement was made the federal government had already depleted those reserved doses, according to The Washington Post on Friday, which cited state and federal officials. 

The lack of additional doses could hamper the Alabama Department of Public Health’s (ADPH) ability to schedule more vaccinations in the near future. ADPH is to begin administering vaccinations to those aged 75 and older, police and fire, on Monday, but ADPH spokesman Ryan Easterling in a message to APR on Friday said the department is concerned about vaccine supply. 

“While we are concerned about the supply of vaccine, the Alabama Department of Public Health (ADPH) will administer the doses we have according to appointments as we have scheduled, recognizing that further efforts are dependent upon supply,” Easterling said.

Easterling said the federal government hadn’t promised the state a specific number of additional doses, and explained that the inconsistent flow of vaccines to Alabama from the federal government is making it difficult for ADPH to plan vaccination efforts. 

“We are finding out the allocations we are getting as they are loaded into the system. This makes it very difficult to schedule appointments, when we do not know the amount of vaccines that we will be receiving,” Easterling said. “If we knew a consistent amount that we were receiving every week, this would allow us to schedule additional appointments.” 

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President Donald Trump’s Operation Warp Speed stopped stockpiling second doses of the Pfizer vaccines at the end of the year, The Washington Post reported officials as saying, and the last reserve shots of the Moderna vaccine began shipping out over the weekend. Regular vaccine shipments to states means that those in line to get second shot will be able to get them, however, the newspaper reported. 

“States were shocked and surprised that they did not see an increase in their allocations, and when they asked for explanations, some of them were told there was not a large stockpile of second doses to draw from,” said an official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to The Washington Post. “They thought they were getting more doses and they planned for more doses and opened up to 65 and up, thinking they were getting more.”

The demand for vaccinations in Alabama is greatly outstripping the ability of ADPH to supply them. The department on Jan. 13 announced that there were no more vaccination appointments available for county health departments, and that eligible callers to the state’s COVID-19 hotline would be added to a waiting list. 

The state hasn’t yet fully moved into ADPH’s phase 1b of its vaccination plan, but has extended into a subsection of phase 1b, to include those 75 and older, police and firefighters. 

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ADPH on Jan. 9 made the COVID-19 vaccine hotline – (855) 566-5333 – available for those aged 75 and older, police officers and firefighters to call to set an appointment, but in its first day the hotline took more than 1.1 million calls.  

“The Alabama Department of Public Health (ADPH) is aware that the COVID-19 Vaccine Hotline: 1-855-566-5333 is experiencing difficulties,” ADPH said in a Jan. 13 statement. “Staff continues working to expand vaccine scheduling capabilities at the call center.”

As of Jan. 16 the state has administered 130,394 doses out of a total supply of 370,575 at the time, according to ADPH. The state at the time was still awaiting delivery of 269,575 doses that had been allocated by the federal government but not yet delivered. 

Alabama had the lowest number of vaccinations administered per 100,000 residents in the nation as of Friday, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)., but ADPH in a statement Friday said the CDC’s number wasn’t complete. 

“ADPH, as part of its ongoing review of vaccine data, determined that some entities did not report complete information which meant that some doses administered were not included in CDC numbers,” ADPh said in the statement. “This issue has been corrected, and providers are reminded that all doses of COVID-19 vaccine must be recorded in the system within 24 hours of administration.” 

Gov. Kay Ivey in a statement Friday thanked the public for being willing and ready to get their COVID-19 vaccines, and called for patience.  

“Please continue to be patient as we are in the very early stages of distribution. Dr. Harris and his team are continually working to more efficiently get this vaccine into the arms of Alabamians,” Ivey said, referring to Alabama State Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris. “Our current supply remains limited, but we are committed to vaccinating as many Alabamians as possible. We will get shots in the arm and off the shelf. In the meantime, be patient, wear your mask and practice good common sense. Let’s get this thing behind us.”

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Crime

Alabama officials watching for possible armed protests

The Montgomery Police Department will have officers at the Capitol on Sunday, girding for potentially violent demonstrations.

Eddie Burkhalter

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(STOCK PHOTO)

It wasn’t clear Friday whether armed protestors would show up at Alabama’s Capitol building this weekend after an FBI internal report this week warned that there were plans for armed demonstrations in state capitals across the country until Inauguration Day.

First reported by ABC News and corroborated by numerous other news outlets, the FBI’s memo warns that continued violence targeting state capitols remains possible between now and President-elect-Joe Biden’s inauguration on Jan. 20. 

“Armed protests are being planned at all 50 state capitols from 16 January through at least 20 January, and at the U.S. Capitol from 17 January through 20 January,” the bulletin said, according to the Associated Press

Alabama Law Enforcement Agency spokeswoman Robyn Bryan, in a message to APR on Friday, said the agency continues to monitor activity for public safety concerns “and possible threats related to the ongoing protests across the nation.” 

“ALEA recognizes that United States Citizens have constitutionally protected rights to assemble, speak, and petition the government. ALEA safeguards these first amendment rights, and reports on only those activities where the potential use of rhetoric and/or propaganda could be used to carry out acts of violence,” Bryan continued. “Additionally, potential criminality exhibited by certain members of a group does not negate the constitutional rights of the group itself or its law-abiding participants to exercise their individual liberties under the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.” 

The Montgomery Police Department on Friday issued a warning in a tweet to anyone who might plan to bring a firearm to a demonstration. 

“Be mindful that it shall be unlawful for any person, other than a law enforcement officer, to have a firearm in his or her possession or in any vehicle at a point within 1,000 feet of a demonstration at a public place,” the department said in the tweet, citing a portion of Alabama’s state law.

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Montgomery Police will have officers at the Capitol on Sunday, Capt. Saba Coleman of the Montgomery Police Department said in a message to APR on Friday.  

“It’s no exaggeration to say that Trump’s army of domestic terrorists came close to mounting the first successful coup in American history,” said Margaret Huang, president and CEO of the Southern Poverty Law Center, speaking to reporters Friday during a briefing on a report the group released on right-wing extremists attempting to overshadow Biden’s inauguration.

“Now our nation stands at the edge of the abyss. Threats of violence are steadily escalating, with some of Trump’s followers talking openly of civil war. Law enforcement personnel are bracing for potential violence this weekend at the armed protests planned for Washington D.C. and all 50 state capitals,” Huang said. 

Michael Hayden, lead investigative reporter at the SPLC, told reporters during the briefing that the odds for violence “are a lot higher than I’ve seen in a long time.” 

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“And that’s largely to do with the rhetoric that we’re seeing,” Hayden said. 

The chances of far-right extreme groups coming together for another large event in Washington D.C. in the coming days is less likely because of the additional security measures in place since the Capitol attack, Hayden said, adding that leaders of some of the larger extremist groups have urged followers not to go to Washington D.C. 

“I’m not saying it’s impossible to generate a large crowd in Washington D.C. I’m just saying that there are huge obstacles that they did not face on January 6, and it’s missing that sort of galvanizing moment of the Trump rally,” Hayden said. 

Demonstrations at state capitols are far more likely to galvanize crowds, Hayden said. In his work monitoring extremists online he has seen the sharing of maps of state capitols, dotted with pinpoints where groups want people to go, he said. 

Some states have publicized bolstered security around their capitols, a sign that perhaps those state officials have more information about possible threats than SPLC has access to, Hayden said.

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Congress

SPLC responds to arrest of man carrying Confederate flag inside U.S. Capitol

Kevin Seefried and his son, Hunter, face multiple charges connected with their alleged part in the deadly Capitol riot.

Eddie Burkhalter

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Widely shared images of a white man carrying a Confederate flag across the floor of the U.S. Capitol during last week’s deadly attempted insurrection is a jarring reminder of the treasonous acts that killed more than 750,000 Americans during the Civil War, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center. 

“Just as defeated Confederate soldiers were forced to surrender the Civil War and end their inhumane treatment of Black people, the rioter who brazenly carried a Confederate flag into the Capitol has been forced to surrender to federal authorities,” said Lecia Brooks, chief of staff at the Southern Poverty Law Center, in a statement Friday following the arrests of Kevin Seefried, 51, and his 23-year-old son Hunter.

Seefried, the Baltimore man allegedly seen in those photographs carrying the Confederate flag, and his son are charged with entering a restricted building and violent entry and disorderly conduct on Capitol grounds. Hunter is also charged with destroying government property.

“Incited by the President’s disinformation campaign, the rioter’s decision to brazenly roam the halls of Congress clinging to this painful symbol of white supremacy was a jarring display of boundless white privilege,” Brooks’s statement reads. “Despite the revisionist history promoted by enthusiasts, his disgraceful display is proof that the Confederate flag clearly represents hate, not heritage.”

Brooks added:

 “Over 750,000 American lives were lost because of the Confederacy’s treasonous acts. We cannot allow more blood to be shed for efforts to split our Union. January’s immoral coup attempt is an embarrassment to the United States, and we call on the federal government to prosecute these insurrectionists to the fullest extent of the law.”

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An affidavit detailing the charges states that videos taken during the riot show both Seefrieds enter the Capitol building through a broken window, that Hunter helped break, at about 2:13 p.m.

Both men on Jan. 12 voluntarily talked with FBI agents and admitted to their part in the riots, according to court records. 

The elder Seefreid told the FBI agent that he traveled to the rally to hear Trump speak and that he and his son joined the march and were “led by an individual with a bull horn.” 

There were numerous pro-Trump attendees at the rally and march to the Capitol who had bull horns, according to multiple videos taken that day, but at the front of one of the largest groups of marchers with a bull horn was far-right radio personality Alex Jones, who was walking next to Ali Alexander, organizer of the Stop the Steal movement. 

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Alexander in three separate videos has said he planned the rally, meant to put pressure on Congress voting inside the Capitol that day, with Rep. Mo Brooks, R-Alabama, and Arizona U.S. Reps. Paul Gosar and Andy Biggs. Alexander is now in hiding, according to The Daily Beast

Congressman Brooks’s spokesman told APR on Tuesday that Brooks does not remember communicating with Alexander. 

“Congressman Brooks has no recollection of ever communicating in any way with whoever Ali Alexander is. Congressman Brooks has not in any way, shape or form coordinated with Ali Alexander on the January 6th ‘Save America’ rally,” the statement from the congressman’s spokesman reads. 

Jones and Alexander can be seen leading the march in a video taken and posted to Twitter by freelance journalist Raven Geary. 

“This is history happening. We’re not giving into globalists. We’ll never surrender,” Jones yells into his bullhorn as they marched toward the Capitol. 

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Congress

Tuberville says Trump admitted to “mistake” over deadly Capitol riot. He hasn’t

Trump has not admitted to any responsibility in the attack on the U.S. Capitol last week.

Eddie Burkhalter

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In this July 14, 2020, file photo, Republican U.S. Senate candidate and former Auburn football coach Tommy Tuberville speaks at a campaign event in Montgomery, Ala. (AP Photo/Butch Dill, File)

Sen. Tommy Tuberville, R-Alabama, in his first media appearance in Alabama as a senator on Wednesday, was asked his thoughts about the possibility of impeaching President Donald Trump, which happened later that day. He said Trump admitted to making a “mistake” and that it was time to move on. 

Trump has not admitted to any responsibility in the attack on the U.S. Capitol last week that left at least five dead, including a Capitol police officer and a woman who was shot by police while attempting to climb through a broken window inside the Capitol. Two others, including an Alabama man, died from “medical emergencies” while on Capitol grounds during the riot. 

“He made a mistake. He said he made a mistake. That’s not, to me, not an impeachable offense,” Tuberville told reporters outside of St. Vincent’s Hospital in downtown Birmingham, according to WSFA. “He’s got one week to go from today. We’ll have a new president in President Biden. We need to go on with life. I mean, to me, you know, when you understand you made mistakes and admitted. You forgive. You go on.” 

Questions to a Tuberville staffer on Thursday regarding Tuberville’s comments Wednesday were received, but APR had not received responses as of Thursday evening. 

Trump was impeached for a second time — a first in U.S. history for any president — on Wednesday. With 10 Republicans joining Democrats in voting to impeach a Republican president, it was the most bipartisan impeachment in American history.

“Big protest in DC on January 6th. Be there, will be wild!” Trump tweeted in December. The House cited that and similar remarks in charging Trump with inciting an insurrection.

In the moments before the riot last week, Trump told the crowd of supporters assembled near the Capitol: “We will never give up. We will never concede. It doesn’t happen.”

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“If you don’t fight like hell you’re not going to have a country anymore,” Trump said to the crowd. Toward the end of his speech, Trump encouraged his supporters to march to the Capitol. 

“You’ll never take back our country with weakness,” Trump said. “You have to show strength and you have to be strong.”

“We’re going to walk down to the Capitol, and 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. 

Instead of walking to the Capitol with his supporters, Trump returned to the White House where he watched the violence unfold on live television from the West Wing, according to The Washington Post

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Senators and members of the House, including Tuberville and Rep. Terri Sewell, D-Alabama, were bunkered down inside the Capitol as rioters broke into the building, smashing windows, beating police officers and threatening others to stand aside and let them enter further into the building, where the lawmakers were being protected by police. 

Despite attempts by some to get Trump to call off his supporters, Trump wasn’t reachable for a time as he watched the violence unfold on television, according to The Washington Post. 

“It took him a while to appreciate the gravity of the situation,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina, to the newspaper. Graham, also being protected at the time inside the Capitol, called Trump’s daughter, Ivanka, but couldn’t get through to the president. 

“The president saw these people as allies in his journey and sympathetic to the idea that the election was stolen,” Graham told the newspaper. 

At 1:26 p.m. local time, the day of the attack, Trump supporters broke into the Capitol, according to a timeline of events by The Wire. Vice President Mike Pence is escorted out of the Senate chamber at 2:22 p.m. and a short time later Trump tweets an attack on Pence for not intervening on Trump’s behalf as Electoral College votes were being certified. (Pence has — rightfully — said he did not have the legal authority to so.)

“Mike Pence didn’t have the courage to do what should have been done to protect our Country and our Constitution, giving States a chance to certify a corrected set of facts, not the fraudulent or inaccurate ones which they were asked to previously certify. USA demands the truth!” Trump tweeted as his supporters continued the siege. 

At 2:38 p.m. Trump tweets: “Please support our Capitol Police and Law Enforcement. They are truly on the side of our Country. Stay peaceful!” 

Nearly 45 minutes later, Trump tweets again: “I am asking for everyone at the U.S. Capitol to remain peaceful. No violence! Remember, WE are the Party of Law & Order – respect the Law and our great men and women in Blue. Thank you!” 

Shortly after 2 p.m. Trump mistakenly called Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, while trying to reach Tuberville, according to CNN. Lee handed his cellphone to Tuberville. Both men were in a temporary holding room, having been evacuated from the Senate floor, according to CNN. 

“Tuberville spoke with Trump for less than 10 minutes, with the President trying to convince him to make additional objections to the Electoral College vote in a futile effort to block Congress’ certification of President-elect Joe Biden’s win, according to a source familiar with the call,” CNN reported. “The call was cut off because senators were asked to move to a secure location.” 

President-elect Joe Biden in a video posted at 4:06 p.m., more than two hours after the siege began, pleaded with Trump to call for peace. At 4:17 p.m., Trump released a video to Twitter in which he continued to allege the election was stolen from him. 

“I know your pain. I know you’re hurt. We had an election that was stolen from us. It was a landslide election and everyone knows it, especially the other side. But you have to go home now. We have to have peace. We have to have law and order. … So go home. We love you, you’re very special…I know how you feel. But go home and go home in peace,” Trump said. 

A second call to Lee at 7 p.m. came from Trump’s attorney, Rudy Giuliani, according to a recording of the voicemail. Giuliani believed he was also calling Tuberville. 

“I’m calling you because I want to discuss with you how they’re trying to rush this hearing and how we need you, our Republican friends, to try to just slow it down so we can get these legislatures to get more information to you,” Giuliani said, according to the recording. “I know they’re reconvening at 8 tonight, but it … the only strategy we can follow is to object to numerous states and raise issues so that we get ourselves into tomorrow — ideally until the end of tomorrow.”

Speaking Tuesday at a section of the border wall with Mexico in Texas, Trump took no responsibility for the violence at the Capitol.

“People thought that what I said was totally appropriate,” Trump said.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-California, speaking on the House floor before his vote against impeachment, said Trump was responsible for the violence.

“The President bears responsibility for Wednesday’s attack on Congress by mob rioters. He should have immediately denounced the mob when he saw what was unfolding,” McCarthy said.

Rep. Terri Sewell, D-Alabama, spoke before her vote about being on the House floor when rioters broke into the Capitol.  

“I rise today to support impeachment. I do so with a heavy heart and a lasting and searing memory of being in this gallery, the people’s House, right up there, fearing for my life,” Sewell said, pointing to where she and other representatives hid from rioters during the siege. “And why? Because the President of the United States incited others to be violent. A mob of insurgency, in this House. It’s unacceptable, it led to the killing of five Americans.  Blood is on this house. We must do something about it. I ask we move from ‘stopping the steal’ to to healing, but healing requires accountability, and everyone must be accountable.” 

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