There’s no doubt that our country is still incredibly divided after the deadly Capitol insurrection on Jan. 6, 2021. But congressional Republicans and former President Donald Trump have made it difficult for our country to heal by continuing to fuel the “big lie” that led the rioters to storm the Capitol.
On Tuesday, the disdain for Republican leaders and their silence in condemning the violence was on full display at the Congressional Gold Medal ceremony. Recipients were the heroic law enforcement officers of the U.S. Capitol Police and the D.C. Metropolitan Police Department who protected the Capitol on Jan. 6.
It was a much-needed dramatic and unscripted moment during a ceremony that is usually anything but.
As some refused to shake hands with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, it was a much-needed dramatic and unscripted moment during a ceremony that is usually anything but. McConnell and McCarthy shouldn’t be allowed to just go on as if these moments are just business as usual. These leaders and any other elected official who has been either vocal about supporting the unfounded claims of a stolen election or stood in the way of holding those responsible accountable deserve to be snubbed.
Among those who refused to acknowledge McConnell and McCarthy was the family of fallen U.S. Capitol Police Officer Brian Sicknick, who suffered two strokes and died of natural causes the day after the attack.
After the ceremony, Sicknick’s mother told CNN that they had refused to shake McConnell and McCarthy’s hands because she views them as “two-faced” for claiming support for law enforcement yet at the same time singing Trump’s praises and “kissing his ring.”
And indeed, that’s what’s been happening. During the ceremony, McConnell touted the bravery of the officers who protected the Capitol on Jan. 6. “Because of your bravery and professionalism, Congress finished our job that very night,” he said. “Because you honored your oaths to support and defend the Constitution, we were able to honor ours. That is a reality that was made especially clear 23 months ago. But it is true every single day.” And 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.”
But it’s not hard to see how the sentiments are perceived as disingenuous when McCarthy has walked back his initial statements calling on Trump to take responsibility for what happened on Jan. 6 and has refused to cooperate with his colleagues on the House select committee investigating what happened that day. When he was asked by the committee in January to voluntarily provide information about his communication with the White House, he responded by describing the committee’s work as an “abuse of power that stains this institution today and will harm it going forward.”
Furthermore, in a quest to win the speakership, McCarthy has signaled that once the GOP takes control of the House next month, it will investigate the dealings of the Jan. 6 select committee investigating the attack. He and many of his GOP colleagues have made it abundantly clear that they believe the investigation was purely a political vehicle to attack Trump. Rather than recognize the bipartisan nature of the committee and the transparent work it has done to determine why and how our democracy came under attack, McCarthy and other House Republicans would rather play politics.
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While McConnell has condemned Trump for his actions, he still didn’t lend his support to an investigation. Through a filibuster in May 2021, he blocked the creation of an independent commission to investigate the attack and made clear to his GOP Senate colleagues ahead of the vote that he did not support the commission.
Getting to the bottom of what happened on Jan. 6 and making sure everyone responsible is held accountable has fallen on the shoulders of House Democrats with the support and participation of just two Republicans, Reps. Adam Kinzinger of Illinois and Liz Cheney of Wyoming — both of whom were censured by the RNC, will not be serving in the next Congress and have been outspoken critics of Trump.
Even deciding to recognize the brave officers who fought against the rioters became a divisive issue. Despite the extreme suffering faced by officers and their acts of heroism that day, there were 21 House Republicans who voted against awarding all the first responders with Congressional Gold Medals — Congress’ highest honor — during a June 2021 floor vote. The reason? Well, it included being opposed to calling the attack an “insurrection” and the Capitol a “temple.”
Many of the law enforcement officers who risked their lives to defend the Capitol and members of Congress who were inside were injured by the violent rioters, and the trauma even caused some officers to take their own lives in the days and weeks following the violent attack. The Congressional Gold Medal ceremony on Tuesday was a moment for these heroes to be recognized for their service and sacrifice, and it served as an important reminder that Republican leaders aren’t going to be able to boast that their party has a platform that supports law enforcement and the Constitution when their actions show the exact opposite.
Ashley Pratte Oates, an Independent and a former Republican, is a communications strategist and a board member of Republican Women for Progress (which endorsed Hillary Clinton in 2016 and Joe Biden in 2020). Previously she was director of media relations and a consultant for Better for America.