After being awarded the Congressional Gold Medal at a ceremony Tuesday at the U.S. Capitol for their heroism during the Jan. 6, 2021, riot staged by supporters of then-President Donald Trump, police officers and their family members pointedly refused to shake hands with the two highest-ranking Republican lawmakers, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy.
Outgoing House Speaker Nancy Pelosi presided over the ceremony, which bestowed four collective medals, the highest honor given by Congress, to the Capitol Police officers present that day.
"Exactly 23 months ago, our nation suffered the most staggering assault on democracy since the Civil War," Pelosi said at the ceremony, which was also attended by Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer. "Jan. 6 was a day of horror and heartbreak. It is also a moment of extraordinary heroism. Staring down deadly violence and despicable bigotry, our law enforcement officers bravely stood in the breach, ensuring that democracy survived on that dark day."
McCarthy and McConnell also offered praise for the officers.
"To all the law enforcement officers who keep this country safe: thank you,” McCarthy said. “Too many people take that for granted, but days like today force us to realize how much we owe the thin blue line.”
“Thank you for having our backs. Thank you for saving our country. Thank you for not only being our friends but our heroes,” McConnell said during the ceremony.
The deaths of five police officers are blamed on the Jan. 6 attack, two of those by suicide in the days that followed it. Four Trump supporters also died in the violence that day, including Ashli Babbitt, who was killed in clashes with Capitol Police shortly after breaching the Capitol building. Two others died of heart attacks, and one from acute methamphetamine intoxication.
In the wake of the attack on the Capitol, whose goal was to prevent the peaceful transfer of power from Trump to Joe Biden, both McConnell and McCarthy sharply criticized the former president for his role in seeking to overturn the 2020 election results that day. Yet neither man voted to impeach or convict Trump, earning the derision of many Capitol Police officers and their families.
“They’re just two-faced," Gladys Sicknick, the mother of fallen Capitol Police Officer Brian Sicknick, explained, when asked by CNN why she didn't shake the hands of McConnell and McCarthy. She added that she was angered by the Republicans praising the officers in one moment, only to travel to Trump's Mar-a-Lago resort to "kiss his ring" soon after.
McCarthy, who is aiming to succeed Pelosi as speaker now that Republicans have regained control of the House of Representatives, traveled to Trump's Florida home and country club on Jan. 28, 2021, despite Trump's unrelenting promotion of the false claim that he had lost the 2020 election because of voter fraud.
The meeting angered Republicans who had voted to impeach Trump, including Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming. "He's not just a former president. He provoked an attack on the Capitol, an attack on our democracy," Cheney told NBC News. "And so I can't understand why you would want to go rehabilitate him."
Cheney went on to serve as the vice chair of the House Jan. 6 select committee investigating the attack on the Capitol.
McCarthy attempted to appoint Republican lawmakers to the committee who were sympathetic to Trump, but Pelosi rejected two of his five nominations — Reps. Jim Jordan of Ohio and Jim Banks of Indiana. McCarthy, Jordan and Banks were among the 139 Republicans in the House who voted to challenge the Electoral College results in Pennsylvania, even after the pro-Trump mob had been cleared from the Capitol.
Last week, McCarthy indicated in a letter to the chair of the House Jan. 6 committee, Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., that House Republicans would launch a new investigation of the committee itself.
“You have spent a year and a half and millions of taxpayers’ dollars conducting this investigation. It is imperative that all information collected be preserved not just for institutional prerogatives but for transparency to the American people,” McCarthy wrote. “The American people have a right to know that the allegations you have made are supported by the facts and to be able to view the transcripts.”
Before Republicans retake control of the chamber, however, the Jan. 6 committee is planning to issue criminal referrals to the Department of Justice "focused on the main organizers and leaders of the attacks," a source told CNN.
The families of the officers honored Tuesday noted that McCarthy’s decision to investigate the Jan. 6 committee also influenced their decision to not to shake his or McConnell’s hand.