By MJ Lee, Senior White House correspondent
President Joe Biden on Friday plans to mark the two-year anniversary of the January 6, 2021, insurrection by awarding for the first time in his presidency the Presidential Citizens Medal to 12 people.
The individuals include law enforcement officers who were injured defending the Capitol, a Capitol Police officer who died the day after rioters stormed the building and election workers who rejected efforts by former President Donald Trump to overturn the results of the 2020 election.
Biden is set to deliver remarks and host a ceremony at the White House honoring the dozen individuals chosen for having made “exemplary contributions to our democracy” and shown “courage and selflessness” around the events of January 6, a White House official familiar with the details told CNN.
The Presidential Citizens Medal is one of the country’s highest civilian honors, given to American citizens deemed to have “performed exemplary deeds of service for their country or their fellow citizens.” Biden’s decision to distinguish Americans he sees as having protected the nation’s Capitol, its democratic institutions and elections system, is one of the major ways in which the president has sought to draw a stark contrast from his predecessor.
Biden told CNN’s Phil Mattingly on Thursday that he prays “to God” that another insurrection “never happens again.” Asked by Mattingly at a Cabinet meeting what the significance is of the group Biden invited to the White House ceremony, the president said a “lot of thinking” went into it.
More than half of Friday’s 12 recipients of the Presidential Citizens Medal are current and former law enforcement officers.
They include Capitol Police Officer Eugene Goodman, credited for luring rioters away from the entrance to the Senate chambers as lawmakers were evacuating by using himself as “bait”; former DC police Officer Michael Fanone who was brutally assaulted by rioters and said he suffered a heart attack as a result of the experience (Fanone is now a CNN contributor); and Capitol Police Officer Caroline Edwards, who testified before the House January 6 committee that she hit her head during a clash with the insurrectionists and was knocked unconscious before she chose to run back into the chaos.
One person will receive the medal posthumously: Capitol Police Officer Brian Sicknick, who was determined to have suffered strokes and died the day after he had responded to the insurrection. Washington DC’s chief medical examiner said that “all that transpired” on that day had “played a role in his condition.” Sicknick’s remains were laid in honor at the Capitol Rotunda last year.
Other recipients of the Presidential Citizens Medal on Friday include election workers credited for having rejected efforts by Trump and his supporters to overturn the results of the 2020 election.
They include Shaye Moss and her mother Ruby Freeman, who both worked as election workers in Fulton County, Georgia. The two women, who are Black, gave emotional and poignant testimony to the House January 6 committee, describing how their lives were turned upside down after the former president and his allies publicly disparaged them as election fraud hustlers.
“There is nowhere I feel safe. Nowhere. Do you know how it feels to have the president of the United States target you?” Freeman told the House panel.
Moss told the committee that Trump’s attacks on her — and the storm of racist threats that followed — upended her life. “I don’t want anyone knowing my name,” she said. “It’s affected my life in a major way, in every way — all because of lies.”
Rusty Bowers, the Arizona House speaker who has spoken out about resisting an intense pressure campaign from Trump and his lawyer Rudy Giuliani to overturn the results of the 2020 election, and Al Schmidt, a former Republican city commissioner in Philadelphia publicly mocked by Trump as a “RINO” (Republican in name only) for rejecting claims of widespread election fraud in the city, will be honored.
Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, Capitol Police Sergeant Aquilino Gonell, Capitol Police Officer Harry Dunn and Metropolitan Police Department Officer Daniel Hodges are also among the 12 set to receive the medal.
Marking the one-year anniversary of the insurrection last year, Biden delivered an impassioned address calling out Trump’s attacks on American democracy.
“For the first time in our history, a President had not just lost an election. He tried to prevent the peaceful transfer of power as a violent mob breached the Capitol,” Biden said in a speech from the Capitol. “But they failed. They failed. And on this day of remembrance, we must make sure that such an attack never, never happens again.”
While Biden has largely steered clear of weighing in on the details of the House January 6 committee and its work, as well as the Justice Department’s ongoing investigation into the day’s events, he has consistently spoken out more broadly about how the day marked an unacceptable attack on the country’s democratic pillars.
He also injected the theme of defending the country’s democracy into the midterm elections. The issue proved to be a more resonant one with voters than many had anticipated, leaving the White House feeling vindicated.
This week, as political drama and infighting engulfed House Republicans who failed to elect a House speaker over multiple rounds of voting, the president called the debacle an “embarrassing” episode for the country — and made clear that January 6, 2021, was on his mind.
“How do you think it looks to the rest of the world?” Biden told reporters on Wednesday. “We’re really getting through the whole issue relating to January 6. Things are settling out. And now, for the first time in 100 years, we can’t move?”
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