What happens in Washington after the seat of American lawmaking is overrun by supporters of a president who insists he won an election he actually lost, members of Congress are forced to flee their chambers and general chaos ensues on Capitol Hill — and all of it takes place 14 days before the new president is inaugurated?
As is evident from the question itself, the short answer is this: No one really knows.
There are, however, clues and hints and things to focus on. Julie Pace, Washington bureau chief for The Associated Press, explains the haze around the nation's capital after Wednesday's events, and what she's watching most closely in coming days.
YOU’VE SAID THERE'S LITTLE INDICATION WHERE THIS IS GOING TO GO IN THE NEXT TWO WEEKS. WHAT MIGHT THAT MEAN?
What is striking about this moment is that we are in pretty uncharted territory. We have a sitting president who lost an election and has raised challenges about the integrity of that election and has millions of Americans believing his successor is illegitimate. While he has said he’ll leave on the 20th, there are two weeks left. And there’s great uncertainty.
It’s very possible that he will finish up the business he has on his plate and leave. But given what we saw at the Capitol, people are very concerned that this could go in a much different direction.
HOW SIGNIFICANT IS THIS KIND OF UNCERTAINTY AT A TIME THAT’S BOTH VOLATILE AND MOMENTOUS?
We’re at one of these moments where you’re going to see a transfer of power from not just one man to the next but one party to another. You’re going to see a significant shift in priorities from one administration to another. You’re going to see a changeover on Capitol Hill. And it’s all happening with major historic issues taking place — the pandemic, the national reckoning over race.
You don’t want delay. You don’t want obstacles in the way for the new administration. But there are already some real concerns about what the Trump administration will leave the Biden administration, and whether that will hamper them at the start.
HOW DOES AMERICANS' PERCEPTION OF THIS UNCERTAINTY FIGURE IN ALL THIS?
For a lot of Americans, this is something they have never seen before in their own government. And you can’t help but believe that is creating uncertainty and confusion and concern about what comes next. But that plays out in two different ways across the country.
It’s important to know that for every person in America who wants to get through this next 13 days and get Joe Biden inaugurated, there’s another one who wants Donald Trump to get sworn in for a second term. How those two groups coexist is really what we need to watch.
WHAT PART OF THE UNCERTAINTY ARE YOU WATCHING THE MOST CLOSELY?
One piece of this being discussed is whether it’s riskier for lawmakers and cabinet officials to leave Trump in office for the next two weeks or to risk a gambit and move toward impeachment and stir up his supporters. That is, again, uncharted territory. And the fact that we’re having a discussion about whether it’s too risky to leave a president in office for two more weeks is really extraordinary.