Biden, lawmakers honor officers who defended Capitol on Jan. 6
Thirteen individuals were awarded the Presidential Citizens Medal.
President Joe Biden on Friday honored police officers who defended the U.S. Capitol, and others who protected democracy, as Washington marked the second anniversary of the Jan. 6 attack.
For the first time in his presidency, Biden awarded the Presidential Citizens Medal -- the nation's second-highest civilian honor -- to 13 individuals at a ceremony in the White House East Room.
"It's not an exaggeration to say America owes you all -- I really mean this -- a debt, a debt of gratitude, one we can never fully repay unless we live up to what you did," Biden said. "And what you did was truly consequential, not a joke."
The recipients included several officers who came face-to-face with rioters: Metropolitan Police Department officer Daniel Hodges, Capitol Police officer Eugene Goodman, Capitol Police officer Harry Dunn, Capitol Police officer Carolyn Edwards, retired Capitol Police Sgt. Aquilino Gonell, and retired Metropolitan Police Department officer Michael Fanone.
Biden bestowed the honor posthumously to three officers who died in the aftermath of the attack: Brian Sicknick, a Capitol Police officer who officials said died of natural causes a day after being assaulted with bear spray while defending the Capitol; and Capitol Police officer Howard Liebengood and Metropolitan Police Department officer Jeffrey Smith, both of whom died by suicide after responding to the attack.
"I know this honor is bittersweet," Biden said to the officers present. "On that day, more than 140 law enforcement officials suffered physical injuries and untold numbers are suffering from the psychological toll of that day as well."
Others to receive the medal were Ruby Freeman and Shaye Moss, mother-daughter election workers who were the target of right-wing conspiracies following the 2020 race. They've discussed living in fear after the attacks against them began, describing how they were forced to leave their jobs.
"Ruby and Shaye, 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," Biden said. "Presumptuous of me, but I'm so proud of you both."
Several state and local officials who stood up to pressure to overturn the 2020 election results were also recognized, including former Arizona House Speaker Rusty Bowers, Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson and former Philadelphia City Commissioner Al Schmidt.
Speaking about the attack itself, Biden said it was the result of conspiracies about the 2020 race.
"All of it, all of it was fueled by lies about the 2020 election," Biden said. "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. We the people endured. We the people prevailed.
Ahead of the event at the White House, lawmakers gathered Friday morning on Capitol Hill to hold a moment of silence for the 140 officers injured in the attack.
"Our democracy is in tact because of those officers," said Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, the incoming House Democratic Caucus leader, as members gathered on the House steps.
"We will never forget their sacrifice and we will never forget this day," he added.
Rep. Nancy Pelosi, who was serving as House speaker during the attack, said the scars for many are still "raw."
"The Jan. 6 insurrection shook our republic to the core," Pelosi said. "For many in the Congress and across our country, the physical, psychological, and emotional scars are still raw. Yet, from the unspeakable horror sprang extraordinary heroism as law enforcement heroes confronted the insurrectionists to protect the Capitol, the Congress and our Constitution."
Family members of the law enforcement officers who died in connection to the attack took a moment to read out the names of their loved ones.
While Jeffries invited all House members to attend, the crowd appeared mostly made up of Democrats. One notable figure absent from the event was Republican leader Kevin McCarty, who was on Capitol Hill Friday morning amid his bid to become the next speaker of the House.
Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick, perhaps the sole Republican House member who attended the event, told ABC News Jan. 6 is a "terrible day that we can never let happen again."
Fitzpatrick also said the day is an emotional one because he lost his brother, his predecessor Rep. Mike Fitzpatrick, the year before the insurrection.
"I lost my brother on this day, the year before. So had the insurrection happen on the one year anniversary. so a lot of emotions," he told ABC News.
-ABC News' Will Steakin contributed to this report.
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