WASHINGTON — President Biden on Friday honored 14 people who stood against election denialism in 2020 and fought the violent mob at the Capitol two years ago, telling them in a White House ceremony that history “will remember your names, remember your courage, remember your bravery.”
Speaking from the East Room, he awarded the Presidential Citizens Medal to nine police officers — three of whom died after protecting the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021 — and five local officials who were subjected to personal violence but resisted pressure to undermine the election in 2020.
Together, Mr. Biden said, the individuals he honored represented the “extraordinary Americans” whose service to the country helped thwart the efforts of former President Donald J. Trump and his allies as they sought to keep Mr. Trump in power.
“A violent mob of insurrectionists assaulted law enforcement, vandalized sacred halls, hunted down elected officials, all for the purpose of attempting to overthrow the will of the people and usurp the peaceful transfer of power,” Mr. Biden said. “All of it — 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, as the Constitution refers to us, we the people did not flinch.”
A year ago, on the first anniversary of the attack on the Capitol, Mr. Biden rejected the idea that Americans are “too bogged down by division to succeed,” though he added a grim, cautionary note: “Believe me, I know how difficult democracy is.”
On Friday, as the president marked the second anniversary, those divisions were on full display in Washington.
Twenty Republican lawmakers, most of them eager participants in the election lies that gave rise to the Jan. 6 attack, have repeatedly failed this week to elect a speaker, bringing the proceedings of democracy to a halt in the House.
Understand the Events on Jan. 6
- Timeline: On Jan. 6, 2021, 64 days after Election Day 2020, a mob of supporters of President Donald J. Trump raided the Capitol. Here is a close look at how the attack unfolded.
- A Day of Rage: Using thousands of videos and police radio communications, a Times investigation reconstructed in detail what happened — and why.
- Lost Lives: A bipartisan Senate report found that at least seven people died in connection with the attack.
- Jan. 6 Attendees: To many of those who attended the Trump rally but never breached the Capitol, that date wasn’t a dark day for the nation. It was a new start.
Democracy, it seems, is as difficult as Mr. Biden predicted a year ago.
Mr. Biden’s first speech about Jan. 6 was also more focused on Mr. Trump and his actions. Speaking from Statuary Hall in the Capitol in 2022, the president issued a scathing takedown of his predecessor and vowed to “stand in this breach” to ensure that no one places “a dagger at the throat of our democracy.”
This time, Mr. Biden sought to draw attention not to Mr. Trump, but to the people who stood against the former president.
He began by honoring nine police officers, all of whom fought against the surge of violence on Jan. 6 as lawmakers met to certify Mr. Biden’s victory over Mr. Trump.
He praised Daniel Hodges, a Washington police officer who was injured during his first visit to the Capitol, for his bravery amid the chaos.
“Sprayed with poison, pinned and crushed, eye almost gouged out — he didn’t break,” Mr. Biden said of Mr. Hodges.
Mr. Biden honored Michael Fanone, a Capitol Police officer who he said was “beaten, beaten, not pushed around, beaten” and yet “defended our democracy with absolute courage.” And Mr. Biden also paid tribute to Caroline Edwards, the first law enforcement officer injured by the rioters, saying she was knocked unconscious by rioters but “got back up to help hold the line.”
Mr. Biden also awarded the medal to Harry Dunn, a Capitol Police officer who faced racial slurs and harassment on Jan. 6; Aquilino Gonell, a sergeant with the Capitol Police who was injured in the attack; and Eugene Goodman, a Capitol Police officer who led a pro-Trump mob away from the entrance to the Senate chamber.
Three officers Mr. Biden honored on Friday died after the Jan. 6 attacks: Brian Sicknick, a Capitol Police officer who died of a stroke a day after the attacks; Howard C. Liebengood, who died by suicide three days after the attack; and Jeffrey L. Smith, a Metropolitan Police officer who also died by suicide after helping to protect the Capitol.
Speaking to the family members of the honorees, who accepted the medals on the men’s behalf, Mr. Biden offered condolences and a sense of understanding about the grief they are still struggling to deal with.
“Boy is it hard,” he said. “I know how proud I am when my son Beau is honored on the anniversary of his death as a consequence of burn pits in Iraq. But it brings everything back like it happened that moment.
“I want to thank you for having the courage to be here today,” he added.
In addition to the police officers, Mr. Biden awarded the medals to five local officials, each of whom refused to do the bidding of those who insisted that the election had been rigged.
Two of them — Ruby Freeman and Shaye Moss, who is her daughter — received the awards for serving as poll workers in Atlanta, where they were subjected to abuse by Trump supporters who falsely accused them of participating in election fraud.
“Both of them were just doing their jobs, and they were targeted and threatened by the same peddlers of a lie that was fueling the insurrection,” Mr. Biden said. “They were literally forced from their homes and faced despicable racist taunts.”
Mr. Biden also praised Al Schmidt, who was a city commissioner on the Philadelphia County Board of Elections in 2020, noting that he “did not bend, he did not bow, he did not yield to the political threats and pressure.” And he hailed Jocelyn Benson, who served as the Secretary of State of Michigan during the 2020 election, and Rusty Bowers, the Republican House speaker in Arizona. All three resisted pressure from those seeking to overturn the results in 2020.
Mr. Biden called Ms. Benson “a true leader in our nation” and said Mr. Bowers shows people “what integrity is all about.”
A year ago, with the events of Jan. 6 looming in the more recent past, Mr. Biden expressed greater worry about the future of the country, saying that “as we stand here today — one year since Jan. 6, 2021 — the lies that drove the anger and madness we saw in this place, they have not abated.”
But on Friday, he returned to the optimism that has often characterized his speeches.
“We’re not a land of kings and dictators, autocrats and extremists,” he said. “As we see in today’s honorees, we’re a nation and we the people that toughen our fiber, renew our faith and strengthen our cause. There’s nothing beyond our capacity, if we act together.”