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Trump supporters storm Capitol building in Washington
Police clash with rioters who stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.Mostafa Rassim / Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Why 21 House Republicans balked at medals for Capitol police

When some congressional Republicans talk up their support for law enforcement, it's worth reading the fine print.


There was a brief political consensus in the immediate aftermath of the insurrectionist attack on the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6. The left, right, and center could all agree on a simple truth: participating in a riotous assault against the nation's seat of government, in the hopes of derailing our electoral system, is a serious attack against our democracy.

As we've discussed, however, that consensus broke down soon after. As winter turned to spring, many House Republicans decided to rewrite recent history, recasting the villains as heroes, and the police as heavy-handed abusers who interfered with "peaceful patriots" engaged in a lawful protest. There was fresh evidence of this yesterday: TPM reported, "During a House Oversight committee hearing Tuesday, several Republicans spent their speaking time expressing concern for a specific group of people involved in the January 6 attack: the insurrectionists themselves."

Soon after the hearing, the House took up a measure to honor the law-enforcement officials who defended the Capitol on Jan. 6. The resolution passed, but not unanimously.

The House passed a bill Tuesday to award Congressional Gold Medals to honor the Capitol Police officers and others who protected the U.S. Capitol during a pro-Trump riot Jan. 6 by a vote of 406-21.... The bill would provide for four gold medals in honor of the first responders — one for the Capitol Police, one for the Washington, D.C., Metropolitan Police, one for the Smithsonian Institution and one for the Architect of the Capitol.... The legislation would also honor Capitol Police Officer William Evans, who was killed in April when a knife-wielding attacker rammed a security barricade with his car at the Capitol.

To be sure, a 406-to-21 vote is lopsided, but under normal circumstances, we'd expect zero members of Congress to vote against a measure honoring Capitol Police who kept them safe during an attack on their own institution. Yesterday, however, 21 lawmakers -- each of them conservative Republicans -- voted "no," despite knowing that the resolution would pass anyway.

In March, the House took up an earlier version of the measure, and at the time, 12 House Republicans opposed it. Three months later, GOP opposition to honoring the police nearly doubled.

This comes on the heels of related efforts to create an independent commission to investigate the Jan. 6 attack. Law-enforcement groups urged Congress to approve a bipartisan plan, but Republicans ignored them and scuttled the proposal.

At the time, the mother and partner of the late Capitol Police officer Brian Sicknick went door to door, urging Republicans to back the commission. GOP senators rejected the pleas -- and at least 20 Senate Republicans wouldn't even meet with the Sicknick family.

It's important to emphasize that far-right members of Congress are not required to be deferential toward law enforcement. If conservative Republicans reflect on the insurrectionist violence, and see the Jan. 6 rioters as the good guys, that's their choice. It's twisted, and the American mainstream should take note of their ideology, but it's a free country.

That said, as regular readers know, the conventional wisdom says that Republicans and law enforcement are natural allies. Indeed, a recent analysis found that police officers made considerably more campaign contributions than usual in 2020, and most of the donations went to GOP officials and candidates.

For four years, Donald Trump was eager to exploit these perceptions, routinely posturing about "law and order" and being "tough on crime." But just below the surface, Trump slammed law enforcement in ways few American presidents ever have.

And now some of his congressional allies are showing that their support for law enforcement comes with fine print, too.