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‘People just don’t want to remember’: Congress blows past deadline for Jan. 6 plaque

Officers question delay in honoring their actions defending the Capitol

Officers block people from entering the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021. An effort to honor police for their actions that day has stalled.
Officers block people from entering the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021. An effort to honor police for their actions that day has stalled. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Congress has missed the deadline it set for itself to install a plaque honoring police for their courage on Jan. 6, 2021, and lawmakers are staying silent on the cause of the delay.

The plaque, listing the names of all law enforcement officers who responded as a violent mob attacked the Capitol, was supposed to be finished and placed on the western side of the building by March 2023. Nearly one year later, the plaque has yet to be unveiled. 

Michael Fanone, a former Metropolitan Police Department officer who was injured during the attack, said he is frustrated after repeatedly trying to find out why the project is overdue. 

“People just don’t want to remember,” Fanone said. 

Another MPD officer who was injured, Daniel Hodges, said he got nowhere when he raised the issue last year, both publicly in a social media post and privately alongside other officers in a meeting with members of Congress. 

“I would think that it would be pretty uncontroversial. However, the insurrection has proven to be tragically controversial,” Hodges said. 

Roll Call reached out to Speaker Mike Johnson’s office, Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer’s office, the Architect of the Capitol, the Capitol Police and the committees involved in designing the plaque. None offered a timeline for its unveiling.

“The plaque is cleared on the Senate side,” a Senate leadership aide said, requesting anonymity to discuss the status. And a spokesperson for Johnson said: “The speaker’s office is looking into the matter and determining a path forward.” 

Whatever the reason, Fanone said the delay sends a message. He sees a larger pattern of lawmakers downplaying what happened on Jan. 6.

“The simple fact that this event occurred is so politically inconvenient to Republicans that they are willing to basically take a s— on their own Capitol Police Department and the other agencies that responded to assist them,” said Fanone.

Fanone has written a book about his experience, and both he and Hodges gave detailed and disturbing accounts as they testified in 2021 before the Democrat-led, bipartisan select committee that investigated the attack. 

Fanone can be heard on body camera footage pleading with rioters who beat and ​​tased him, saying “I’ve got kids.” And Hodges, who suffered a skull injury, told lawmakers one man attempted to gouge out his eye.

‘Debt of gratitude’

The idea of installing a plaque came from then-Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Wash., who broke with her party to help Democrats impeach President Donald Trump for inciting an insurrection. Such a tribute would be a chance to show bipartisan support for law enforcement, she said at the time.

“We all owe a debt of gratitude. … I had an officer share with me how it felt to be beaten with a flagpole with a ‘Blue Lives Matter’ flag on it. They suffered serious physical injuries and it took an emotional toll,” she said at a House Appropriations Committee markup in June 2021.

To honor the officers and their service, she proposed a “stark and permanent reminder” in the form of a plaque listing them by name that would be placed on the West Front of the Capitol, where the onslaught had been particularly fierce. The committee adopted her amendment to the Legislative Branch spending bill, and the plaque eventually landed in the final omnibus for fiscal 2022.  

The law directs the House and Senate Legislative Branch Appropriations subcommittees, along with the House Administration and Senate Rules and Administration committees, to compile a list of officers “who valiantly protected the United States Capitol.”  

A point of debate at the time was how many names should, or reasonably could, appear on the plaque. But the final version of the law called for them all.

The law states in part: “Not later than 1 year after the date of the enactment of this Act [Mar. 15, 2022], the Architect of the Capitol shall obtain an honorific plaque listing the names of all of the officers of the United States Capitol Police, the Metropolitan Police Department of the District of Columbia, and other Federal, State, and local law enforcement agencies and protective entities who responded to the violence that occurred at the United States Capitol on January 6, 2021, and shall place the plaque at a permanent location on the western front of the United States Capitol.”

It’s not unusual for Congress to miss deadlines it sets for itself, according to Kevin Kosar, a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. He helped edit a 2020 book, “Congress Overwhelmed,” about the many ways in which the legislative branch is falling short.

Often, it’s an issue of capacity for committees or support agencies, which have limited bandwidth. And there are virtually no consequences other than public outcry or political finger-pointing. 

Daniel Schuman, governance director at POPVOX Foundation, said recent scandals at the Architect of the Capitol probably haven’t helped any of its projects.

“The Architect of the Capitol got fired for being incompetent,” Schuman said, referring to J. Brett Blanton, who was removed by President Joe Biden last February for alleged unethical conduct. The agency did not respond to a request for comment on the plaque.

“And who knows what the political incentives are. Like, who’s pushing for this to happen?” Schuman continued. 

Michael Fanone, Daniel Hodges and Harry Dunn attend a hearing of the Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the United States Capitol on June 21, 2022. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

As they took back majority control of the chamber in the 118th Congress, House Republicans vowed to reexamine the events of Jan. 6. First under former Speaker Kevin McCarthy, and then with renewed support under Johnson, the House Administration Oversight Subcommittee has set out to review the findings of the select committee that previously investigated the attack.

Georgia Republican Rep. Barry Loudermilk, who is leading the charge, has repeatedly made the unfounded claim that  “paid instigators” or FBI operatives could have instigated the crowd. Fellow Georgia Republican Rep. Andrew Clyde has said the attack, which lasted hours and aimed to stop Congress from certifying Trump’s 2020 election loss, was more like a tourist visit than a violent siege or insurrection.

The speaker’s office declined to respond to the suggestion that political considerations could be a factor in the delay.

As the third anniversary of Jan. 6 came and went this year, it echoed loudly on the campaign trail, where a presidential rematch is brewing. “Some people call them prisoners. I call them hostages. Release the J6 hostages,” Trump said in a speech. More than 1,200 people have been charged with criminal offenses like assaulting a police officer or obstructing an official proceeding, and more than 460 have been sentenced to periods of incarceration, according to the latest summary from the Justice Department. 

“Trump and his MAGA supporters not only embrace political violence, but they laugh about it,” Biden said in his own speech a day earlier, adding they are “trying to steal history, the same way he tried to steal the election.”

Meanwhile, observances of the anniversary were muted on Capitol Hill. One of the few that week was an event hosted by Republican Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, who screened a film from the right-wing Epoch Times claiming to tell “The Real Story of January 6.”

‘History will remember your names’

While the West Front of the Capitol remains without a plaque, another tribute has seen better progress.

A 2021 law led by then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., honored police for their service on Jan. 6 by awarding them Congressional Gold Medals. Those medals have already been designed, minted and presented in a ceremony at the end of the previous Congress. 

At the December 2022 ceremony, family members of the late Brian Sicknick, a Capitol Police officer who suffered strokes and died after the attack, refused to shake hands with Republican leaders, in a sign of how bitter such memorial efforts have become.

“I’m just tired of them standing there and saying how wonderful the Capitol Police is and then they turn around and … go down to Mar-a-Lago and kiss his ring,” Sicknick’s mother told CNN, referring to loyalty to Trump.

Recently, the Architect of the Capitol took another required step by publicly displaying one of the medals. The agency “shall display the medal with a plaque that lists all of the law enforcement agencies that participated in protecting the United States Capitol,” the gold medal law reads.

A glass case in the Capitol Visitor Center now holds such a display, including a framed list of more than 20 law enforcement agencies. That design could potentially also satisfy the intent of the plaque mandated by the omnibus, essentially pulling double duty. But there’s a notable difference: the lack of officers’ names. 

Former Capitol Police officer Harry Dunn, who is now running as a Democrat for Maryland’s 3rd District seat, said he recently saw the framed design in the visitor center display. It meets the requirements of the gold medal law, but not the omnibus, Dunn noticed. 

“It only has the agencies that responded, not the names of the officers who responded, which I thought was supposed to be on the plaque,” Dunn said. “So, I’m a little confused.”

A congressional gold medal honoring police is displayed in the exhibition hall of the Capitol Visitor Center. (Courtesy Sen. Amy Klobuchar)

California Democratic Rep. Zoe Lofgren, who was chair of the House Administration Committee until 2023 and who served on the Jan. 6 select committee, said she wasn’t sure what was causing the delay on the plaque mandated by the omnibus. “I think this memorial is important, especially for the many police officers who were assaulted,” Lofgren said in a statement.

Capitol Police said the department remains supportive of a plaque installation. But a spokesperson had no information on the reason for the monthslong holdup.

“We appreciate the recognition of our officers who bravely defended the U.S. Capitol and the Congress, as well of the recognition of our many law enforcement partners who helped the United States Capitol Police ensure the legislative process could continue at the end of the day,” Chief J. Thomas Manger said in a statement. 

A spokesperson for Pelosi referred questions about timing of a plaque installation to the Republican majority’s appropriators. “The Speaker Emerita is certainly hopeful that the congressionally mandated tributes to the law enforcement heroes on January 6th will have a home in the Capitol complex for generations to come,” the spokesperson added. A spokesperson for House Appropriations Committee Republicans declined to comment.

A few of the many officers who defended the Capitol have become household names, after testifying to the Jan. 6 select committee in 2021 or rising to prominence in media reports. And Fanone, who has previously described receiving threatening phone messages, said he’s not done talking about Jan. 6, even though the attention hasn’t always been positive. 

On the two-year anniversary of the attack, President Joe Biden awarded Dunn, Fanone, Hodges and the late Sicknick the Presidential Citizens Medal, along with several other officers. 

“History will remember your names, remember your courage, remember your bravery,” Biden said at an awards ceremony at the White House on Jan. 6, 2023. 

But Hodges said his fellow officers who fought to hold the line that day deserve to have their names recognized too. 

Fanone agreed: “It’s most befitting their actions that each individual officer is acknowledged for his or her role that they played that day.” 

Jim Saksa contributed to this report. 

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