WASHINGTON — Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell thanked police officers Thursday for “saving our country” by defending Congress from a mob of then-President Donald Trump’s supporters on Jan. 6, 2021.
The Kentucky Republican hailed members of the US Capitol Police and DC Metropolitan Police departments during the presentation of the Congressional Gold Medal to the forces that battled rioters who disrupted certification of Joe Biden’s victory in the 2020 presidential election.
“Because of your bravery and professionalism, Congress finished our job that very night. Because you honor your oath to support and defend the Constitution, we were able to honor ours,” McConnell said in the Capitol Rotunda.
“That is a reality that was made especially clear 23 months ago, but it is true every single day,” he added. “Thank you for having our backs. Thank you for saving our country. Thank you for being not just our friends but our heroes.”
McConnell broke with the 76-year-old Trump after the riot and called him “practically and morally responsible.” His wife, Trump’s Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, resigned on Jan. 7, citing the “traumatic and entirely avoidable” violence.
McConnell has remained one of the top Republicans attempting to steer the party away from the former commander-in-chief, who is seeking a non-consecutive second term in 2024.
Outgoing House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) presided over the event Tuesday and hailed officers for beating back the “gleeful desecration” of the building and the “most staggering assault on democracy since the Civil War.”
“More than 140 members of [the police forces were] left with lasting scars and many more suffering from indelible trauma,” she said.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) also spoke and more broadly praised police.
“The Capitol Police and DC police are valued members of this community. But they’re also members of another community, the community of law enforcement, the brotherhood of law enforcement,” McCarthy said.
“By awarding them the Congressional Gold Medal, we’re not online honoring them for protecting the nation and community on Jan. 6, but we’re honoring them for the essential brotherhood as well.”
The Gold Medal legislation for police officers initially passed the Senate on the same day that Trump was acquitted in February 2021 of inciting the riot — with just seven Republicans voting to find him guilty, meaning the upper chamber failed to reach the two-thirds threshold for conviction.
The initial Senate bill would have given a medal specifically to Capitol Police Officer Eugene Goodman, who led the initial wave of rioters away from an open door to the Senate chamber, averting potential violence against evacuating senators and Vice President Mike Pence. A reporter for The Post recorded footage of Goodman single-handedly leading rioters in a different direction. The intruders later broke into the Senate chamber — at least two of them carrying plastic handcuffs.
Congress ultimately passed a version pushed by Pelosi that did not give the award to any specific officer, and the chiefs of police from the two departments accepted on behalf of the workforces.
President Biden signed the Gold Medal legislation in August, calling the mob of Trump supporters “extremists and terrorists” and saying that “we cannot allow history to be rewritten.”
Trump supporter Ashli Babbitt, 36, was fatally shot by a police officer during the riot and three other pro-Trump rioters died of medical emergencies. US Capitol Police Officer Brian Sicknick, 42, himself a Trump supporter, died of a stroke after fighting off the rioters. Four cops and at least three accused rioters later died by suicide.
In a display of the still-raw political and emotional strains from the riot, Sicknick’s family members declined to shake hands with the Republican leaders, snubbing McConnell’s outstretched palm.
Trump has insisted that he told thousands of supporters near the White House to “peacefully and patriotically” descend on the Capitol on Jan. 6 and his defenders note that many members of the Proud Boys group didn’t attend Trump’s speech and were already clashing with officers before it ended.
Trump’s detractors note that he revved up the crowd by claiming the election was being “stolen” and saying they had to “fight like hell” or they were “not going to have a country anymore.”