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Congress blew the deadline for a plaque honoring Jan. 6 officers by over a year

Congress passed a law mandating a Capitol memorial for law enforcement officers who defended the building on Jan. 6, 2021. One Democrat said it is “deeply troubling that this memorial has not been installed.”
Speaker of the House Mike Johnson
A spokesperson said House Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., is working with the architect of the Capitol "to get the plaque mounted."Tom Williams / CQ-Roll Call Inc. via Getty Images

WASHINGTON — As Congress plans to honor law enforcement for National Police Week in Washington, those who defended the U.S. Capitol during the Jan. 6, 2021, attack are still awaiting a permanent memorial in the building more than a year after the deadline Congress set to place one.

Congress commissioned a plaque to honor officers who responded to the riot that day, to be completed by March 2023, but it has yet to be installed. The bill that authorized the honor required lawmakers on both sides of the aisle and both sides of the Capitol to approve the process — two Democratic sources and a Republican source said House Republicans are to blame for the hold-up.

Republicans on relevant committees responded to requests for comment on the delay by referring NBC News to the office of House Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La. A spokesman for Johnson said the office “is working with [architect of the Capitol] to get the plaque mounted” but did not provide a date for when the plaque would be installed or share a reason for the delay.

In response to questions about the delay, the architect of the Capitol’s office said it is “working with the Speaker’s office to get the plaque mounted.”

Presumptive Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump is considering pardoning hundreds of Capitol rioters who took part in an attack that injured 140 police officers. Members of the House Republican majority continue to downplay the events of Jan. 6. Johnson, who played a key role in efforts to overturn the 2020 election results, introduced a Trump-backed bill last week that plays on much of the same misinformation about election security that led to the attack.

Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., a former member of the House Jan. 6 committee, asked Johnson in a new letter for information about the delay.

“I am deeply concerned about the delay in installing the plaque, which was mandated by law to be placed on the western side of the Capitol building by March 2023,” Lofgren wrote in a letter to Johnson. “As you may recall, the Fiscal Year 2022 omnibus, passed in March of 2022, included provisions requiring the Architect of the Capitol to obtain an honorific plaque listing the names of all officers from various law enforcement agencies who responded to the violence on January 6, 2021.” 

“It is deeply troubling that this memorial has not been installed, particularly considering the significance of honoring those who faced violence and assault while safeguarding our Capitol,” she wrote.

The 2022 government funding bill, which became law on March 15, 2022, when Democrats still controlled the House, gave Congress one year to create and display a plaque honoring officers from the Washington Police Department, as well as officers from federal, state and other local law enforcement agencies and protective entities, “who valiantly protected the United States Capitol, Members of Congress, and staff on January 6, 2021.” A group of congressional offices was instructed to compile the names that should go on the plaque, including those offices of the top Republican and Democrat on the House Administration Committee, the Senate Rules Committee and the House and Senate Appropriations subcommittees that allocate money to the legislative branch. The architect of the Capitol was given the responsibility of obtaining the plaque and finding it a permanent home on the western front of the Capitol. 

Multiple people involved in the process could not say how much had been completed.

Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, questioned whether the delay can be chalked up to the slow pace at which the architect of the Capitol completes work on the Capitol grounds. Romney, who was sworn in to the Senate in 2019, cited a set of elevators in the Dirksen Senate Office Building that have “been under repair now the entire time I’ve been here.”

The office of the architect of the Capitol, which maintains and preserves the buildings and the grounds of the Capitol complex, has undergone turmoil in recent months after President Joe Biden fired Architect of the Capitol J. Brett Blanton in February 2023 in the wake of a report that said he had abused his authority and misused taxpayer money. The role has been filled in an acting capacity ever since.

“You know, I have maybe come to accommodate the speed with which the architect of the Capitol works,” said Romney, who voted to convict Trump in his Jan. 6-related impeachment trial. “So the fact that we haven’t gotten the plaque probably should have alarmed me, but I’ve been here so long I’m getting used to it.”

The deadline to install the plaque passed while former Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., was still speaker of the House. Johnson was elected to the job in October, after McCarthy was ousted.

This week, Johnson is scheduled to host a prayer vigil and a flag-laying ceremony at the Capitol to honor law enforcement officers who have been killed in the line of duty as part of National Police Week, an annual event.

congressional award medal gold
The Congressional Gold Medal, awarded to those who responded to the Jan. 6, 2021, attack, on display at the exhibition hall of the Capitol Visitor Center on Monday.Frank Thorp V

After the attack, some lawmakers, like Romney, had asked officials to leave some of the damage in the building as a reminder that “it was not a tourist event, it was a brutal assault on the temple of the democracy.” But officials in the Capitol quickly cleaned up the damage the rioters left on Jan. 6, replacing broken windows, repairing doors and cleaning a bust of President Zachary Taylor, which had blood smeared on it during the riot, and putting it back without a trace of its having been defaced.

The plaque would not be the only public reminder of the actions officers had to take that day to prevent rioters from overtaking the building and disrupting the counting of the electoral votes in Biden’s 2020 victory over Trump. In 2022, Congress awarded the Congressional Gold Medal, its highest civilian honor, to officers who responded to the attack, and a display case showing the medal and a plaque naming law enforcement agencies that responded sits in the Capitol Visitor Center, where tours of the Capitol originate.

A permanent memorial to officers who sacrificed while defending the Capitol is not unprecedented. A plaque is already in the Capitol to honor two officers who were fatally shot when they encountered a gunman in 1998. That plaque, which honors Capitol Police Detective John M. Gibson and Officer Jacob J. Chestnut Jr., was installed on the wall inside the door they were defending, which is also the door the House speaker typically uses to enter and exit the building.

Former Capitol Police Sgt. Aquilino Gonell told NBC News that if Republicans want to hold themselves out as supporters of law and order, they need to show respect for the officers who protected them from the rioters that day and put up the plaque as laid out in the law. Gonell, who has been pushing for answers about the plaque, said he does not think bureaucracy alone can explain the delay, and he called for Johnson’s office to speed up the work. 

“On Jan. 6, we protected Kevin McCarthy and Mitch McConnell just as much as we protected Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer,” Gonell said, adding that Johnson “should approve installing the plaque immediately and Capitol Police Board should make it accessible so the American people understand the danger we faced and the magnitude of our sacrifices protecting our elected leaders, our Capitol, our democracy.”

Former Washington Police Officer Michael Fanone was viciously assaulted by multiple rioters on Jan. 6, including with a stun gun, and he suffered a heart attack and a traumatic brain injury that day. He said it was important to recognize that officers “made significant sacrifices, some of them career-ending, as a result of their defense of the Capitol that day.” 

But Fanone said that awards and acknowledgments are worth only the value you place on the people bestowing them and that he feels “betrayed by both sides of the political aisle,” especially given that Democrats voted to save Johnson from ​​far-right Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene’s effort to oust him last week.

“I understand it as politics, and I’m not naive, but at some point in time, at this moment, somebody’s going to have to take a stand on principle and do the right thing,” Fanone said, adding that Johnson lent his credibility as a member of Congress to Trump’s lies about the 2020 election.

“Police officers went to the Capitol that day to stop a mob, a mob that was attacking the Capitol building, destroying property and assaulting police officers,” Fanone said. “If you can’t acknowledge that, f--- you.”

Fanone left the police department in late 2021 and is still trying to put his life together in the aftermath of the attack, which he said took something he cannot get back: a career in law enforcement. He has struggled to find a job; he recently applied to be a loss prevention coordinator at Cabela’s, he said, but he was rejected.