President Biden on Thursday signed a bill awarding the Congressional Gold Medal, the body’s highest expression of national appreciation, to a group of law enforcement officers who responded to the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol.
The president, who was joined by Vice President Kamala Harris, signed the legislation during a Rose Garden ceremony. The solemn speech that followed served as an emotional counterweight to a campaign by some Republicans to distort and deny what happened at the Capitol that day.
“My fellow Americans, the tragedy that day deserves the truth above all else,” Mr. Biden said. “We cannot allow history to be rewritten. We cannot allow the heroism of these officers to be forgotten. We have to understand what happened, the honest and unvarnished truth. We have to face it.”
The ceremony was attended by more than a dozen members of the Capitol Police and Washington’s Metropolitan Police Department, including Officer Michael Fanone, a Metropolitan Police officer who was seriously injured during the riot and who has publicly pleaded with Republican lawmakers to denounce the lies some members of their party have been telling about the deadly attack.
Congress passed the bill honoring the officers this week amid reports of the suicides of two officers who had been at the Capitol on the day of the riot, bringing to four the known number of officers who have killed themselves in its aftermath. Dozens of other officers are still recovering from the psychological and physical trauma they suffered at the hands of the mob. The families of several fallen officers were also invited to attend the ceremony on Thursday.
Last week, four police officers who defended the Capitol that day testified about their experiences in excruciating detail before a special committee investigating the riot, describing the brutal violence, racism and hostility they suffered as a throng of angry rioters, acting in the name of President Donald J. Trump, beat, crushed and shocked them.
Around 140 police officers were injured during the attack, and 15 were hospitalized. Officer Brian D. Sicknick of the Capitol Police died of a stroke after clashing with the mob.
The Senate voted in February to award a Congressional Gold Medal to Officer Eugene Goodman, who led rioters away from the Senate chamber and directed Senator Mitt Romney, Republican of Utah, away from the mob.
In June, the House expanded the measure to apply to all members of the Capitol Police and the Metropolitan Police Department who were involved in the Jan. 6 response. That legislation passed overwhelmingly, though 21 far-right Republicans voted against it.
Under the new legislation, four Congressional Gold Medals will be issued to honor the officers: one each to be displayed at the headquarters of the Capitol Police and the Metropolitan Police Department, one at the Smithsonian and one at the Capitol. A plaque at the Capitol will list all the law enforcement agencies that helped protect the building.
On Thursday, Senator Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky and the minority leader, praised the officers for defending the Capitol.
“On Jan. 6, Congress got a firsthand reminder of a reality that many American citizens face every day,” Mr. McConnell said in a statement. “That the brave men and women of law enforcement really are a thin blue line standing between peace and chaos.”
The Rose Garden event gave Mr. Biden a fresh opportunity to stand as a defender of law enforcement, even as his White House continues to face pressure from some progressive Democrats who support defunding police departments that employ racist tactics.
On Thursday, Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, was asked about Mr. Biden’s support of law enforcement and comments made by Representative Cori Bush, Democrat of Missouri, who said she needed private security after receiving death threats in response to her support for defunding police departments.
“There may be some in the Democratic Party, including Congresswoman Bush, who disagree with him, that’s OK,” Ms. Psaki told reporters. “It does not appear to be becoming a Democratic message, even though there might be a desire for that on the other side.”
For his part, the president made clear in his remarks on Thursday how he felt about the officers being honored and what they experienced on Jan. 6.
“It breaks my heart,” Mr. Biden said. “It breaks the heart of the nation to remember that you were assaulted by thousands of violent insurrectionists at the Capitol of the United States of America.”
After the president finished speaking, he stepped out from behind the lectern and began shaking hands. As he was busy greeting family members, several officers in uniform, including Officer Fanone, embraced and wiped their eyes. A military band played “Amazing Grace.”
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