House passes bill to award congressional gold medals to Capitol, DC police
The House on Wednesday passed a bill to award congressional gold medals to U.S. Capitol Police and Washington, D.C.'s Metropolitan Police Department for protecting the Capitol and members of Congress during the Jan. 6 insurrection.
Before any medals can be awarded, the House version of the measure, passed 413-12, will need to be reconciled with a Senate-passed bill that would award a congressional gold medal to Capitol Police Officer Eugene Goodman, who led rioters away from the Senate chamber.
The congressional gold medal is the highest honor Congress can bestow on an individual or institution.
Congress first started commissioning the medals during the American Revolution to honor citizens who participated in the war, according to the House historian. Later, Congress broadened the scope of the award and started giving medals to a variety of individuals whom lawmakers considered worthy of recognition, including actors, authors, musicians, astronauts, scientists, doctors, athletes, humanitarians and public servants.
House and Senate rules require congressional gold medal bills to have at least two-thirds of the respective chamber co-sponsoring the measure before it can be considered.
Sponsored by Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the bill had 333 cosponsors heading into the vote. The measure would commission three gold medals: one each for the Capitol Police and the Metropolitan Police Department to display at their respective headquarters, and one for the Smithsonian Institution to display with a plaque that lists the other law enforcement agencies that aided in protecting the Capitol on Jan. 6.
Some Republicans who didn’t co-sponsor the bill said they had concerns about the language, including the use of the term “insurrection” and calling the Capitol a “temple.” A dozen ended up voting “no.”
Capitol Police officers stationed outside the chamber during the vote were overheard questioning which members voted against the bill.
“It’s just offensive that we literally logrolled recognition of the Capitol Police,” Florida GOP Rep. Matt Gaetz, one of the “no” votes, told CQ Roll Call. “We didn’t give it its own dignity. We had to combine it with these editorial comments about the Jan. 6 sequence of events, and then we had the logroll it with this exhibit at the Smithsonian, and that was a little much for me.”
Rep. Thomas Massie told CQ Roll Call he voted against the bill because it used the term “insurrection” and the implication codifying that description of Jan. 6 could have on prosecutions of individuals in the Capitol that day.
“If we give weight to the word ‘insurrection’ that then that comes up in somebody’s prosecution, so that’s a concern of mine,” the Kentucky Republican said. “Also calling this a temple is a little too sacrilegious for me. This is not a religion here. This is a government. We separate our religion from our government.”
Texas GOP Rep. Chip Roy also took issue with the phrase in the bill’s findings section that calls the Capitol “the temple of our American Democracy,” saying, “It’s neither a temple, nor is it a democracy.” However, he ended up voting for it.
Other Republicans who voted against the bill were Texans Michael Cloud, Louie Gohmert and Lance Gooden, Georgians Andrew Clyde and Marjorie Taylor Green, Arizonian Andy Biggs, Virginian Bob Good, Marylander Andy Harris, Tennessean John W. Rose and Floridian Greg Steube.
‘Exemplify the heroism’
Pelosi had been gathering co-sponsors on her bill when the Senate on Feb. 12 passed a bill via voice vote to award a congressional gold medal to Goodman. That bill, led by Sen. Chris Van Hollen, has 72 cosponsors.
Goodman is among only a handful of officers who have received public recognition, but hundreds of officers fought back the insurrectionists on Jan. 6. Huffington Post reporter Igor Bobic captured video of Goodman leading rioters away from the Senate chamber, where lawmakers and staff were still being evacuated. The video went viral, and Goodman was widely praised as a hero.
The praise quickly translated to calls for Goodman to be awarded the congressional gold medal, with Van Hollen, D-Md., introducing a Senate version of the bill and Rep. Charlie Crist, D-Fla., introducing a House version. Crist’s bill has only 165 cosponsors, short of the two-thirds needed to be considered.
Van Hollen’s bill cites Bobic’s video footage as it notes Goodman’s “selfless and quick-thinking actions doubtlessly saved lives and bought security personnel precious time to secure and ultimately evacuate the Senate before the armed mob breached the Chamber.”
“Officer Goodman’s actions exemplify the heroism of the many men and women who risked their lives to defend the Capitol on January 6, 2021,” the bill says.
Although Pelosi’s bill provides for a broader award in commissioning the gold medals, it names Goodman and compliments him for his “courage.”
Her bill also names the three officers who died: Capitol Police Officer Brian Sicknick, who died of injuries suffered in the attack, and Capitol Police Officer Howard Liebengood and D.C. Metro Police Officer Jeffrey Smith, who both died by suicide after the events of Jan. 6.
A Pelosi spokesperson said the speaker wanted to make sure all officers who fought the rioters and protected the Capitol on Jan. 6 received recognition.
The topic of Goodman being just one of many heroic officers who fought back rioters came up during a recent New York Times interview with Capitol Police Officer Harry Dunn.
“People fought their asses off. Eugene was great. He did his job. He did it heroically, literally, in the face of danger. So many people did that that day. So many freaking people,” Dunn said. “We’ve got officers who suffered concussions and got attacked. So many people fought so bravely. There were so many Eugene Goodmans that day. Everybody I saw fought their asses off. And they’re heroes.”
It’s not clear how the House and Senate plan to reconcile their bills. A Pelosi spokesperson said those discussions would occur after passage of the House version.
Van Hollen told CQ Roll Call last week that he’d like to see both measures passed into law but that Goodman deserves his own medal because he “played a particularly special role in defending the Senate.”
“We’ve been in communication with [the House] and our hope is that they will pass both,” he said. “I understand that their plan is to pass the gold medal for all the officers, which I support.”
The debate on the House gold medal bill was originally scheduled for last week, but it was delayed along with a dozen other bills scheduled to be brought up under suspension of the rules, a fast-track process that requires two-thirds support for passage.
A majority of suspension bills pass on voice vote, but Roy and Greene planned to ask for roll call votes on all 13 suspension bills scheduled to be debated last week.
Democratic leaders decided to pull the suspension bills from the schedule because of the floor time it would have taken - roughly 45 minutes per vote due to COVID-19 voting groups that allow for more social distancing - that would have cut into the time needed to debate other scheduled legislation.
“Some Republicans, not the Republican leadership, but some Republicans, had threatened to ask for a vote on each one of those 13 bills, which would have taken some 10 hours of voting,” House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer told reporters last week.
The Maryland Democrat specifically mentioned Republicans’ protest delaying consideration of the gold medal bill for Capitol and D.C. police, saying, “It’s a shame that that was not passed.”
The gold medal bill was one of only five suspension bills Hoyer put on the schedule this week, anticipating Republicans may again request roll call votes on each one, which they did.
“Out of an abundance of caution and trying to avoid, you know, a confrontation on this, I pulled all but five,” Hoyer told reporters Tuesday. “These five are very important to get done.”