Coronavirus

Charlie Baker rips GOP’s ‘brazenly political’ election challenge and says Trump should ‘step down’ after Capitol riot

The Republican governor also stood by his decision to vote for neither candidate in last fall’s presidential election.

Gov. Charlie Baker during a press conference earlier this week at the State House. David L. Ryan / The Boston Globe

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Gov. Charlie Baker broke from the usual format of his COVID-19 press conferences Thursday to forcefully condemn President Donald Trump and other Republican lawmakers for inciting the mob attack on the Capitol on Wednesday.

“Yesterday’s events were appalling, disgraceful, and depressing,” Baker, a fellow Republican, said in his opening remarks Thursday.

“But it’s important to remember that they were the culmination of months of President Trump repeating, over and over again, that the American electoral system is a fraud,” he continued. “For four years, a man who won three states in 2016 by less than a combined total of 78,000 votes — that no one questioned at the time — has repeatedly questioned the validity of the American electoral process. As recently as September, he would not commit to a peaceful transfer of power, one of the most fundamental hallmarks of American democracy, if he lost the election. Since the election, he’s routinely referred to it as a fraud and a fake. After he stoked the flames of outrage for weeks leading up to the events of yesterday, he refused to adequately prepare the U.S. Capitol for the possibility of violence and left it nearly defenseless.”

Following Trump’s tacit encouragement, his supporters violently stormed and vandalized the U.S. Capitol Building in Washington, D.C., forcing lawmakers to evacuate and delaying the certification of President-elect Joe Biden’s victory in this past fall’s election. The siege resulted in the deaths of four people.

Asked if Trump should be removed from office, Baker said that people “should pursue whatever they believe will make it possible in the most expeditious way possible for the president to step down and for [Vice President Mike Pence] to assume the office” to lead the transition to Biden’s administration over the next two weeks.

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His comments came as Democratic leaders in Congress called on Trump administration officials to exercise the 25th Amendment to remove the president from office. The entire Massachusetts congressional delegation has also expressed support for Trump’s emergency removal, either through the 25th Amendment or an expedited impeachment process.

“Whatever the mechanism is for doing that, I leave up to the people in Washington,” Baker said. “But I think it’s important at this point that there be an orderly transition, and that transition be led by the vice president.”

During his prepared remarks, Baker noted that, in the midst of the racial justice protests this summer that occasionally turned violent, Trump was the “first to call out local and state officials” for not cracking down harder (even as those protests were met with a much more forceful response from law enforcement compared with the riot Wednesday).

“Yesterday, he thanked the mob for their support,” Baker said.

“The whole thing makes me sick,” he continued. “Yesterday’s riot was a dark moment for our country, made even more depressing by the president’s role leading up to it, and his wholly inadequate and appalling response to the violence. Almost as ridiculous, on the same day, at virtually the same time, a handful of elected officials, egged on by their Republican president, attempted to use fully unconstitutional means to reverse the role of millions of Americans who voted in last year’s election.”

When federal lawmakers did reconvene late Wednesday night, several Republicans rescinded their objections to the Electoral College result, despite previously amplifying claims of voter fraud.

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“To no one’s surprise, their efforts failed,” Baker said. “And in the light of yesterday’s event, the brazenly political nature of their actions was laid bare for all to see.”

Baker added that public safety officials in Massachusetts will maintain a “high degree of vigilance” in the aftermath of the events Wednesday, but declined to get into details.

The moderate Republican also stood by his decision to not cast a vote for either Biden or Trump in last fall’s election.

“I made the decision that basically said I wasn’t particularly pleased with either choice, and I was perfectly comfortable with that, and a lot of other people told me that was a pretty good move,” Baker said.

Still, he praised Biden’s response — as well as the remarks of many senators — after the Capitol attacks for their “tone” and reassurance.

“But all those folks have work to do,” Baker said.

“We still have a pandemic,” he added.

On that note, Baker also announced Thursday that he was issuing a two-week extension of his pre-Christmas order that reduced capacity limits for most businesses and other indoor settings to 25 percent maximum occupancy, amid fears of another holiday-induced surge of COVID-19 cases. The order, which also reduced the limit on public gatherings, was set to expire this Sunday but will now go on until Jan. 24.

“We know that extending those restrictions for many businesses, especially small businesses, is a lot to ask,” Baker said. “But we need to stay in this game a little longer, especially during this most crucial period to stop the spread of the virus and build the bridge to vaccines.”

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Massachusetts reported another 6,419 cases of COVID-19 and 99 deaths due to the disease on Wednesday as coronavirus hospitalizations in the state continue to rise. According to the Department of Public Health’s daily report Wednesday, there were 2,416 people in Massachusetts hospitalized due to COVID-19.

Baker’s administration also announced Thursday that hospitals that are over 80 percent bed capacity and attest to DPH that they have suspended all nonessential elective invasive procedures may request a temporary exemption from the mandated nurse-to-patient ratios in intensive care units.

“We believe that these steps, among others, are crucial to ensuring that they can continue to provide care to all the patients who need it as we battle this pandemic,” Baker said.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, Massachusetts has reported 386,052 cases of COVID-19 and 12,563 confirmed deaths due to the disease.

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