Biden lauds 'heroes' of Jan. 6 attacks on second anniversary
WASHINGTON, Jan 6 (Reuters) - President Joe Biden marked the second anniversary of the deadly attack on the U.S. Capitol on Friday by awarding the "Presidential Citizens Medal" to 14 people, some posthumously, who battled to defend America's democracy after the 2020 election.
In a White House ceremony, Biden, a Democrat, described the violence that injured 140 police as "fueled by lies" and the people being honored as "heroes."
As he spoke, Republicans, many of them loyal to former President Donald Trump who pushed the false election claims, struggled for a fourth straight day to elect a speaker of the House of Representatives.
"All of it was fueled by lies about the 2020 election, but on this day two years ago our democracy held because 'We the People' ... did not flinch," Biden said.
"History will remember your names. They’ll remember your courage. They’ll remember your bravery. They’ll remember your extraordinary commitments to your fellow Americans. That’s not hyperbole, that’s a fact," he said.
Along with several members of law enforcement, the honorees included former Arizona House Speaker Rusty Bowers and Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, who resisted pressure to overturn the 2020 election results in their states; Capitol Police officer Eugene Goodman, who diverted rioters from the Senate floor while lawmakers were evacuating; and Georgia election worker Ruby Freeman, who Trump falsely accused of election fraud.
The White House on Friday added two names to the list, both of whom took their own lives in the aftermath of Jan. 6, U.S. Capitol Police officer Howard Liebengood and Washington police officer Jeffrey Smith.
Freeman was forced to flee her home last year after death threats from angry Trump supporters. Trump on Wednesday targeted Freeman by name again to his nearly 5 million followers on his social media platform.
Biden said Freeman and others fought back against "predators and peddlers of lies" about the 2020 election.
CONTRAST WITH TRUMP
Trump supporters attacked police, broke through barricades and entered the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, in a failed effort to prevent congressional certification of Biden's 2020 election victory.
Trump, who has announced a third bid for the presidency, in 2024, had pressured his vice president, Mike Pence, to not certify the vote, and he continues to claim falsely that the 2020 election was stolen from him through widespread fraud.
The White House event gave Biden another opportunity to condemn the acts of violence two years ago and raise concerns about the threats to U.S. democracy by Trump and people inspired by him. The inability of Republicans so far this week to elect a House speaker, after winning control of the chamber in the November midterm elections, has hinged on a hardline group of mostly Trump-supporting lawmakers, many of whom backed his election fraud claims.
The fight to pick a House leader has raised questions about the capacity of Republicans to govern with a slim majority in the House. Biden has called the speaker election drama embarrassing.
Biden provided another contrast with bickering House Republicans during a joint appearance with Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell on Wednesday in Kentucky in a display of bipartisanship. Democrats narrowly control the U.S. Senate.
Shortly before the 2021 rampage, Trump, in his waning days as president, delivered a speech near the White House urging his supporters to march on the Capitol. Five people died in the ensuing riot and more than 140 police officers were injured. A U.S. House panel investigating the attack said last month that Trump should face criminal charges for his role in provoking the violence.
Capitol Police officer Brian Sicknick, who died in the days following the attack on the Capitol, was awarded a posthumous medal. Washington's chief medical examiner ruled that Sicknick died of natural causes following multiple strokes after the attack on the Capitol. His parents, Charles and Gladys Sicknick, accepted the award on his behalf. Biden held Gladys Sicknick's hand as the citation about her son was read.
"This is warranted, and in some senses overdue, but also incredibly difficult for the families, and particularly the families of those who lost a hero defending our democracy," Biden said in the White House East Room, which was packed with family and friends of those being honored.
Other awardees included Harry Dunn, Caroline Edwards, Michael Fanone, Aquilino Gonell and Daniel Hodges, all members of law enforcement who defended the Capitol on the day of the attack.
Shaye Moss, an election worker from Fulton Country, Georgia, and Al Schmidt, who was a city commissioner on the Philadelphia County Board of Elections, also received awards.
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