By BRIAN A. HOWEY

INDIANAPOLIS – When newly-elected Mike Pence showed up at the U.S. Capitol for his first joint session of Congress on Jan. 6, 2001, he watched Vice President Al Gore declare George W. Bush and Dick Cheney as the winning Electoral College ticket. He heard Gore, who lost a bitter election that was ultimately decided in the Bush v. Gore U.S. Supreme Court case, tell the assembly at its conclusion, “May God bless our new president and new vice president, and may God bless the United States of America.”

Nine months and five days later – on Sept. 11 – Rep. Pence stood in that Capitol as the doomed Flight 93 approached, only to be forced in the ground hundred miles short of its mission of terror by patriot passengers.

On Wednesday, Vice President Pence presided over a joint session of Congress in what should have been a routine congressional imprimatur of state certification showing he and President Donald Trump had lost the Nov. 3 election to Democrats Joe Biden and Kamala Harris. This occurred as CBS News reported this cryptic message heard on restricted channels by multiple New York air traffic controllers: “We are flying a plane into the Capitol Wednesday. Soleimani will be avenged.”

But the terror at the U.S. Capitol didn’t come from pilots from Iran, but by supporters of President Trump who laid siege to the building after he goaded them to go to the Capitol. At a rally at the Ellipse, Trump made a lie-filled speech, telling his supporters that the election had been stolen, and that Joe Biden would be “illegitimate.” Trump vowed he would “never concede” and urged the massive crowd to march to the Capitol where hundreds had already gathered under tight security. “We’re going to walk to the Capitol,” Trump said. “You’ll never take back our country with weakness.”

The Capitol was quickly overwhelmed, security perimeters were breached. Protesters could be seen breaking windows and entering the Senate chamber, sitting where Pence had been just an hour earlier. Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office had been entered. It is unclear how Pence himself was secured, but there were reports that he was going to be whisked away after the Proud Boys urged his execution. Members of Congress and staffers were advised to shelter in place. Washington Mayor Muriel Bowser issued a 6 p.m. curfew.

“This is what the president has caused today, this insurrection,” said U.S. Sen. Mitt Romney, the Republican 2012 presidential nominee. NBC chief foreign correspondent Richard Engel, tweeted, “In other nations, when demonstrators, urged by a cornered president, try to take over the capital building it’s called a coup. Nothing else. In a classic coup, first protesters take state buildings, then it goes to the military to pick sides.”

Former President George W. Bush compared the “insurrection” to those of a “banana republic.”

President Trump tweeted around 2:20 p.m., “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!”

During the proceedings, Pence had acknowledged a challenge to Arizona’s certification, and adjourned for what had been expected to be others of Electoral College results from Georgia, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin. 

In the ultimate split screen moment, Trump told his supporters, “Mike Pence, I hope you’re going to stand up for the good of our Constitution and for the good of our country. And if you’re not, I’m going to be very disappointed in you. I will tell you right now, I’m not hearing good stories. I hope Mike is going to do the right thing. I hope so. I hope so, because if Mike Pence does the right thing, we win the election. … All Vice President Pence has to do is send it back to the states to recertify, and we become president.”

Trump had lunched with Pence on Tuesday, and there were photos of the vice president and his Chief of Staff Marc Short in the Oval Office. Trump said that participating in the reversal of the election isn’t what takes courage. “I said, ‘Mike, that doesn’t take courage.’ What takes courage is to do nothing; that takes courage. And then we’re stuck with a president who lost the election by a lot. And we have to live with that for four more years.”

A few minutes later Trump told the Ellipse crowd, “And Mike Pence is going to have to come through for us. And if he doesn’t, that will be a sad day for our country because you’re sworn to uphold our Constitution. If they do the wrong thing, we should never, ever forget.”

The loudspeakers at the “Overturn the Election” rally played the Celine Dion theme song “My Heart Will Go On” from the movie “Titanic.” 

That came after Pence issued a statement hours earlier: “My oath to support and defend the Constitution constrains me from claiming unilateral authority to determine which electoral votes should be counted and which should not. My role as presiding officer is largely ceremonial. Some believe that as Vice President, I should be able to accept or reject electoral votes unilaterally. Others believe that electoral votes should never be challenged in a Joint Session of Congress. After a careful study of our Constitution, our laws and our history I believe neither view is correct.”

Pence ended the three-page letter saying, “So Help Me God.”

Trump’s hellbent decision to use the normally ceremonial congressional acceptance of state Electoral College results not only puts Pence’s future presidential campaigns in a precarious position, it roiled the Republican Party as well as an unnerved nation, which was used to seeing coup d’etats in Third World capitals of Tehran, Bogata, Guatemala City and Saigon, but not in Washington.

Outside the Senate Russell Office Building, U.S. Sen. Todd Young was confronted by a crowd of his Hoosier constituents. Asked why he didn’t join Indiana colleague Mike Braun in contested the Electoral College results, an emotional and masked Young said, “My opinion doesn’t matter. And you know what, when it comes to the law, our opinions don’t matter, the law matters. The law matters. I share that conviction that President Trump should remain president. I share that conviction, but the law matters. I took an oath under God, under God!” 

In a statement, Young said, “As Congress meets to formally receive the votes of the Electoral College, I will uphold my Constitutional duty and certify the will of the states as presented. The people voted and the Electoral College voted. Congress must fulfill its role in turn. Like so many of my patriotic constituents and colleagues, I too wish the results of this election were different. I strongly supported President Trump and his agenda the last four years. I campaigned hard for him. But upon assuming this office, I took a solemn, inviolable oath to support and defend our Constitution, just as I did as a United States Marine. I will not violate that oath.”

Hours after Georgia Republicans lost two U.S. Senate races, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell spent his last hours in the majority citing the dangers of the moment. “If this election were overturned by mere allegations from the losing side, our democracy would enter a death spiral. We’d never see the whole nation accept the election again,” McConnell said. “I believe protecting our constitutional order requires respecting the limits of our own power. It would be unfair and wrong to disenfranchise American voters and overrule the courts and states on this extraordinary thin basis. I will vote to respect the people’s decision and defend our system of government as we know it.

“I supported the president’s right to use the legal system dozens of lawsuits …. But over and over the courts rejected these claims including all-star judges whom the president himself has nominated,” McConnell said.

Within an hour after Pence commenced the joint session began, a mob of Trump supporters breached a U.S. Capitol security perimeter and tear gas was fired around 2:15 p.m. The Capitol and congressional office buildings were under lockdown. A woman was killed.

Pence was whisked to a secure location. “The violence and destruction taking place at the US Capitol Must Stop and it Must Stop Now,” Pence later tweeted. “Anyone involved must respect Law Enforcement officers and immediately leave the building.”

McConnell and Pelosi reconvened the joint session at 8 p.m. and the Electoral College process was confirmed early this morning. Pence said at 3:41 a.m. today, “The announcement of the state of the vote by the president of the Senate shall be deemed a sufficient declaration as persons elected president and vice president of the United States.”

The three Hoosier Members who had joined this cabal – U.S. Mike Braun, U.S. Reps. Jackie Walorski and Jim Banks – were mostly mute, though Banks tweeted a prayer emoji, saying, "Please pray for our country." Braun reversed himself yet again, voting “no” on the challenge from Arizona around 9:30 p.m.

By late afternoon, as talk turned to Pence invoking the 25th Amendment to spare America the two final weeks of Trump rule, the president tweeted, "These are the things and events that happen when a sacred landslide election victory is so unceremoniously & viciously stripped away from great patriots who have been badly & unfairly treated for so long. Go home with love & in peace. Remember this day forever!”

Axios reported this morning that Trump banned Pence chief of staff Marc Short, among the last loyalists, from the White House yesterday.

President Trump, this day will be remembered, as the 21st Century’s version of a day that will live in infamy.