WASHINGTON – The House voted Wednesday to award Capitol police, Metropolitan police and other law enforcement agencies with the Congressional Gold Medal, for protecting lawmakers, staffers, reporters and visitors from insurrectionists on Jan. 6.
About 140 police officers were injured during the attack, including 15 who were hospitalized, when rioters broke into the building, vandalized offices and interrupted the counting of Electoral College votes. Three officers who were there later died.
“Jan. 6 was a day of horror and heartbreak, but it was also a moment of extraordinary heroism,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., who called the dead “martyrs for democracy,” said Tuesday in debate on the measure. “Today, united in grief and gratitude, the House is honoring these heroes as we pass legislation to bestow upon them the Congressional Gold Medal, the highest honor this Congress can give.”
The House voted 413-12 to award the gold medals to Capitol Police, Metropolitan Police and other law enforcement officers who responded. Nobody spoke in opposition during the debate. The Senate must still vote on the measure.
Rep. Andy Barr, R-Ky., said Capitol police regularly risk their lives to protect lawmakers. Officer Jacob Chestnut and Detective John Gibson were shot to death in the Capitol in 1998. Officers protected lawmakers practicing baseball in Alexandria, Va., in June 2017, when a gunman shot Rep. Steve Scalise, R-La.; Capitol Officer Crystal Griner and two others.
“Thank you to each and every officer who was here on Jan. 6,” Barr said Tuesday. “Your bravery will not be forgotten.”
The resolution notes that Capitol Officer Brian Sicknick died the day after the attack after being injured. Capitol Officer Howard Liebengood and Metropolitan Officer Jeffrey Smith died by suicide in the days after the attack.
“The desecration of the U.S. Capitol, which is the temple of our American Democracy, and the violence targeting Congress are horrors that will forever stain our nation’s history,” the resolution says.
Rep. Don Beyer, D-Va., mourned the loss of Sicknick and Smith, who were his constituents.
“Not all wounds sustained that day were visible,” Beyer said Tuesday. “I mourn both of their losses deeply.”
One of the 12 Republicans who voted against the measure, Rep. Thomas Massie of Kentucky, said he opposed using the word “insurrection” in the resolution because it could affect criminal prosecutions and he opposed calling the Capitol a “temple.”
“Calling this a `temple’ is a little too sacrilegious for me,” Massie said. “This is not a religion here. This is a government. We separate our religion from our government.”
The resolution called for the Treasury Department to strike three gold medals, with one for the Capitol police headquarters, one for the Metropolitan Police Department headquarters and one for the Smithsonian Institution. The Smithsonian could display the medal with a plaque describing its significance, which could be displayed elsewhere.
The Treasury could also make and sell bronze versions of the medal.
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The House resolution specifically praised Capitol Officer Eugene Goodman for exemplifying patriotism and professional commitment by risking his life during the riot. Goodman led rioters away from the Senate chamber during the attack. Goodman also directed Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, away from rioters.
“In the weeks after the attack on Jan. 6, the world learned about the incredible, incredible bravery of Officer Goodman on that fateful day,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said before the chamber gave Goodman a standing ovation on Feb. 12. “The nation saw and has now seen numerous examples of the heroic conduct of the Capitol Police, the Metropolitan Police, and the SWAT teams that were with us on Jan. 6 here in the Capitol, protecting us.”
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., called Jan. 6 a “day of fear” for people working in the building. But he said the attack also revealed the courage of law enforcement officers.
“In the face of lawlessness, the officers of the U.S. Capitol lived out the fullest sense of their oaths,” McConnell said. “If not for the quick thinking and bravery of Officer Eugene Goodman in particular, people in this Chamber may not have escaped that day unharmed.”
The Senate must still vote on the House resolution. The Senate unanimously approved a Congressional Gold Medal for Goodman, although the House hasn’t acted yet on that legislation.