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Biden gives a dozen medals to people who helped protect democracy during Jan. 6 riot

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

It's the second anniversary of the January 6 attack on the Capitol. To mark it, President Biden honored 14 Americans with a medal for what they did to defend democracy on that day and in the lead-up to it. NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith was at the ceremony and has this report.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: The January 6 attack on the Capitol was aimed at stopping the peaceful transfer of power - violence fueled by former President Trump's lies about fraud in the 2020 election. Dozens of law enforcement officers were injured. Several people who were there died. Two years later, more than 900 people have been charged in connection with the attack. And President Biden, who has made defending democracy a centerpiece of his presidency, wasn't about to let the anniversary pass unmentioned.

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PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: But on this day, two years ago, our democracy held because we the people - as the Constitution refers to us, we the people did not flinch.

KEITH: In a ceremony at the White House, Biden honored some of those who have emerged from that dark time with the Presidential Citizen's Medal. It is described as one of the nation's highest civilian honors for people who have, quote, "performed exemplary deeds of service for their country and fellow citizens." This was Biden's first time bestowing the medal.

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BIDEN: And it's not an exaggeration to say America owes you - owes you all - I really mean this - a debt - a debt of gratitude - one we can never fully repay unless we live up to what you did.

KEITH: Biden spoke at length about what these people did and the hardships they endured, and then a military aide read out the citations.

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UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: We the people honor U.S. Capitol Police Officer Caroline Edwards.

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KEITH: The honorees should be familiar to anyone who followed the work of the House Select Committee that investigated the January 6 attack. Several delivered emotional testimony about trying to protect the Capitol, including Edwards, injured trying to hold back the approaching mob.

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CAROLINE EDWARDS: What I saw was just a war scene. It was something like I had seen out of the movies.

KEITH: There was Eugene Goodman, the Capitol police officer who redirected rioters as they ran toward the Senate chamber where senators were still evacuating, and Michael Fanone, the metropolitan police officer tased with his own weapon until he had a heart attack. Biden told their harrowing stories and those of other police that day, including three law enforcement officers who died and were honored posthumously.

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BIDEN: To all of you, I know this honor is bittersweet. On that day, more than 140 law enforcement officials suffered physical injuries, and untold numbers are suffering from psychological toll of that day as well.

KEITH: He also honored election workers, including Shaye Moss, who testified to Congress earlier this year about trying to administer the election and follow the law in the face of conspiracy theories and threats.

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SHAYE MOSS: It's affected my life in a major way, in every way, all because of lies for me doing my job, same thing I've been doing forever.

KEITH: Rusty Bowers, the Arizona House speaker in 2020, a Republican, testified about the incredible pressure he faced to overturn the election results and how he pushed back.

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RUSTY BOWERS: You're asking me to do something against my oath, and I will not break my oath.

KEITH: In the weeks and months since the attack, reactions to January 6 have become even more polarized. Democrats, especially those who feared for their lives at the Capitol that day, never want to forget. Many Republicans have downplayed what happened and don't want to talk about it. In the East Room at the White House, as Biden handed out the medals, there were no high-profile Republican politicians on hand. Tamara Keith, NPR News, the White House. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tamara Keith has been a White House correspondent for NPR since 2014 and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast, the top political news podcast in America. Keith has chronicled the Trump administration from day one, putting this unorthodox presidency in context for NPR listeners, from early morning tweets to executive orders and investigations. She covered the final two years of the Obama presidency, and during the 2016 presidential campaign she was assigned to cover Hillary Clinton. In 2018, Keith was elected to serve on the board of the White House Correspondents' Association.