ATLANTA (AP) — Georgia's governor and two other leading Republican officials called reporters to a heavily guarded state Capitol Wednesday to denounce the violent occupation of the U.S. Capitol by a mob incited by President Donald Trump, but didn't call for an end to congressional challenges to the electoral votes of Georgia and other states or directly blame Trump for rioting.
Gov. Brian Kemp, who Trump demanded to resign for not doing enough to overturn Democrat Joe Biden's victory in Georgia in the Nov. 3 general election, called the rioters' actions “a disgrace and, quite honestly, un-American.”
Kemp did rebuke state Republican lawmakers who had been calling for a special legislative session to try to change Georgia’s 16 electoral votes to Trump or change Georgia’s election procedures.
“For those of you that have been calling on a special session, you can now see what that would look like,” Kemp said.
In Washington, outgoing Republican U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler was among Republicans who withdrew her objection to the certification of electoral votes. Loeffler lost her seat Tuesday to Democrat Raphael Warnock after promising on Monday to back the challenge.
“The events that have transpired today have forced me to reconsider,” Loeffler said on the floor of the Senate. "I cannot now in good conscience object to the certification of these electors”
Earlier Wednesday, Georgia’s secretary of state and his staff evacuated their offices at the state Capitol as armed protesters gathered outside.
Gabriel Sterling, a top official with the secretary of state’s office, said an internal decision was made to leave by Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger and his team.
“We saw stuff happening at the Georgia Capitol and said we should not be around here, we should not be a spark,” Sterling said.
About 100 protesters gathered at the Capitol on Wednesday to protest Trump’s election loss. Some were armed with long guns. At least two armed men lingered outside after sunset.
Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan, who has publicly defended the integrity of the election that awarded Georgia's 16 electoral votes to Biden, called for Trump to speak more forcefully.
“I call on Donald Trump, President Donald Trump, to speak with all the clarity in the world as to exactly what Americans should do at this point in Washington, D.C.,” Duncan said. “They should exit the Capitol peacefully. They should allow democracy to once again shine. I want to speak directly to Georgians, every Georgian that can hear my voice, put down your differences, put down your partisanship and pick up your freedom.”
House Speaker David Ralston called the violence “despicable” and said there could be “no possible justification.”
“Whether your candidate wins or loses an election is no reason to jeopardize the safety of your fellow citizens," Ralston said.
Some Democrats called for stronger action. In Washington, newly elected U.S. Rep Carolyn Bourdeaux called for immediate impeachment proceedings against Trump, citing the “personal responsibility Trump bears for today’s events and his flagrant efforts to undermine the election in Georgia.”
“We need to be clear that the outgoing president and his enablers have routinely fanned the flames that sparked today’s riots,” Bourdeaux, who represents parts of Gwinnett and Forsyth counties, wrote on Twitter.
U.S. Rep. Lucy McBath, who represents parts of Cobb, Fulton and DeKalb counties, called for Vice President Mike Pence and Trump's cabinet to invoke the 25th Amendment, which allows a president to be removed for incapacity.
“The eyes of the world are upon us, and the president’s incitement of violence, his inducement of chaos, and his inability to faithfully ‘discharge the powers and duties of his office’ make it clear,” McBath wrote on Twitter. “The President has refused to protect our democracy and must be removed.”
Kemp said he would continue an order in effect since summer activating the Georgia National Guard to control protesters. That order was originally aimed at those protesting racial injustice after the death of George Floyd, which occasionally boiled over into window-smashing, looting, and even arson of a state police building.
The activation costs money each day it continues. Capitol grounds are currently muddy with construction for a tall metal fence that’s supposed to protect from protesters and allow the activation to end.
Kemp said he was discussing “safety protocols” for the Capitol with Ralston, Duncan and Democrats in advance of Monday's scheduled start to the regular legislative session.
Fulton County on Wednesday stopped ballot processing and tabulation from Tuesday's runoff elections. Fulton County spokeswoman Jessica Corbitt said tabulation was halted “out of an abundance of caution,” noting the county also closed all downtown Atlanta offices.
The Associated Press has called the Senate runoffs for Democrats Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock.