Biden Honors Jan. 6 “Heroes” as Political Divisions Remain Throughout Washington and Nation

A divided Congress commemorated the insurrection anniversary with vastly different tributes

  • Published In: Politics
  • Last Updated: Jan 07, 2023

By Jacob Gardenswartz

Special to the Wyoming Truth

WASHINGTON — It was a split-screen moment for the ages: on the two-year anniversary of the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, a divided government responded with very different commemorations.

At the White House, President Joe Biden marked the occasion with a bipartisan ceremony where he bestowed the Presidential Citizens Medal to 14 individuals, among them law enforcement officers who defended the Capitol during the attack and election officials who rebuffed efforts by former President Donald Trump to overturn the 2020 election.

“On this day, two years ago, our democracy held because we the people, as the Constitution refers to us, ‘we the people’ did not flinch,” Biden said. “We the people endured. We the people prevailed.”

Across Pennsylvania Avenue, however, it was a very different scene. As Biden spoke, Republican Leader Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) lost his thirteenth consecutive vote for House Speaker, as a coalition of far-right lawmakers — many of whom continue to dispute the results of the 2020 election — withheld their support. It wasn’t until the wee hours of Saturday morning that McCarthy finally clinched the Speaker’s gavel, fivc days after the House was set to return to work.

Earlier in the day, House Democrats held their own Jan. 6 ceremony on the Capitol steps, paying special tribute to the officers who died or were injured during the insurrection. Though all members-elect were invited, only one Republican, Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania, was present.

“We stand here today with our democracy intact because of those officers,” said Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, the Democrats’ new Minority Leader. “The violent insurrectionists who stormed the Capitol and attempted to halt the peaceful transfer of power, a cornerstone of our republic — they failed.”

Republicans, for their part, have mostly shied away from highlighting the anniversary. In his speech nominating McCarthy for his twelfth speaker vote, Rep. Mike Garcia (R-Calif.) thanked the Capitol Police who, he said, serve “with that pure and selfless intent, they do it every day and we should thank them every day.” His remarks received bipartisan ovations on the House floor.

Otherwise, Republicans’ focus was elsewhere. Rep. Scott Perry (R-Penn.), a McCarthy holdout until the last ballot who was a key figure in Trump’s effort to overturn the election, told reporters Friday that he’s “focused on what’s happening right here — today — not what happened a couple years ago.”

Representatives for Wyoming Senators John Barrasso, Cynthia Lummis and Congresswoman-elect Harriet Hageman did not respond to inquiries about the legislators’ thoughts on the insurrection anniversary. But Hageman did post shortly after McCarthy was finally elected speaker that she’s ready to “get to work” on her priorities, including border security and reducing regulation. It was her first public statement since the House convened on Tuesday.

In a statement on Twitter, former Rep. Liz Cheney honored “members of law enforcement who defended our Capitol, and public servants who did their duty and prevented a much graver crisis.”

Washington, D.C. resident Arlene Renshaw, a Democrat, praised former Rep. Liz Cheney’s work on the Jan. 6 select committee: “She stood up for what she believed to be the core principles of our country, and I admire her for that.” (Wyoming Truth photo by Jacob Gardenswartz)

“America needs honorable leaders who put their oath ahead of personal ambition and take seriously their obligation to defend our nation,” Cheney said.

Biden’s speech rich with emotion and anger

In his remarks, the president honored the medal recipients with emotional tributes, while issuing stark warnings about what could have happened had they not stood up.

“The threats, the violence, the savageness of it all, the trauma. It’s all real,” Biden said. “It’s not an exaggeration to say America owes you.”

Among those who received the medal were Capitol Police officers Harry Dunn, Caroline Edwards, Aquilino Gonell and Eugene Goodman, as well as Metropolitan Police officer Daniel Hodges and former officer Michael Fanone.

Biden awarded posthumous medals to the families of officers Brian Sicknick, Howard Liebengood and Jeffrey Smith, each of whom died shortly after defending the Capitol amid the insurrection — Sicknick as a result of a stroke, and Liebengood and Smith by suicide. Earlier this year, Biden signed into law a new measure which extends death and disability benefits to families of law enforcement officers who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder or die by suicide in the line of duty.

Beyond law enforcement, Biden honored state and local election officials who withstood immense pressure from Trump and his allies to overturn the election. Among those recipients were former Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, former Philadelphia elections official Al Schmidt and former Republican Speaker of the Arizona House Rusty Bowers, who testified to a Congressional panel that he faced threats of violence after Trump’s tweets attacking him.

To Ruby Freeman and her daughter Shaye Moss, two Georgia election workers who continue to face verbal attacks from the former president, Biden said: “You don’t deserve what happened to you, but you do deserve the nation’s eternal thanks for showing the dignity and grace of ‘we the people.’”

Describing the rioters as “sick insurrectionists,” Biden praised those who have worked to hold them accountable. Though he did not mention Trump by name in his remarks, Biden highlighted the recently-passed measure to overhaul the centuries-old law Trump leaned on in his attempts to remain in power. “America is a land of laws not chaos, a land of peace not violence,” Biden concluded. 

Demonstrators praise Cheney’s role in Jan. 6 investigation

Shortly before Biden spoke, a small group of demonstrators assembled outside the Capitol building calling for Trump to be held to justice. Individuals including Martin Luther King III, the son of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., spoke of their ongoing fight for voting rights and contrasted their protest work with the violence of Jan. 6.

“Every demonstration that my father was involved in and my mother were involved in were nonviolent and peaceful demonstrations,” King said. “We can disagree without being disagreeable.”

Among those present was Arlene Renshaw, who said she was “here to say: ‘never again.’”

Asked about her impressions of the Jan. 6 investigation, and vice chair Cheney’s role on it, the D.C.-resident and Democrat said she “would disagree with her on policy because I’m in a different camp altogether politically.”

“But I admire her courage,” Renshaw continued, “the fact that she really demonstrated a kind of morality that I think every politician ought to have. She stood up for what she believed to be the core principles of our country, and I admire her for that.”

Given her admiration for Cheney, would Renshaw support her for higher office? The former Congresswoman is said to be considering a presidential campaign.

“I don’t know. I guess I would reserve judgment,” she said.

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