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President Biden is set to mark the second anniversary of the Jan. 6 attack at the U.S. Capitol, putting the spotlight on individuals who have stood up for democracy amid discord among House Republicans, some of whom continue to downplay the riot.
Biden will speak Friday from the East Room of the White House. His speech will focus on those who stood up for democracy two years ago as rioters descended on the Capitol to try to stop the certification of the 2020 election results. He is expected to award the Presidential Citizens Medal, a major civilian honor, to election workers, Republican state officials and several law enforcement officers who were heralded for their actions in the aftermath.
Biden speaks frequently about Jan. 6 as part of his broader belief that there is an ongoing “battle for the soul of the nation.” Some Democrats believe the insurrection is just as significant to Biden as the 2017 Charlottesville, Va., white supremacist rally that spurred him to run for the White House.
“His view is that what happened on Jan. 6 was of monumental importance, and if we allow that to fade in collective memory it could lead to another catastrophe,” said Matt Bennett, a co-founder of the centrist think tank Third Way.
Friday’s event could also foreshadow the differences he will grapple with in working with a divided Congress and Republican-led House for the next two years.
Biden marked the first anniversary of the riot from the Capitol last year by calling out former President Trump and his supporters for attempting to rewrite history and minimize the seriousness of what happened that day when scores of Trump supporters violently clashed with law enforcement and stormed the Capitol.
This year, things will look different. Biden will speak from the East Room of the White House instead of Capitol Hill. Republicans now control the House, with their majority made up of many lawmakers who raised objections on Jan. 6 to certifying election results, or who have questioned the legitimacy of Biden’s victory.
The House GOP has also been embroiled this week in a contentious battle to elect a Speaker, which has grinded the chamber’s business to a standstill.
Meanwhile, some expect Biden to recognize the now-disbanded House panel that spent last year holding high-profile public hearings about the Capitol attack and Trump’s role in it. Three of its members are no longer in Congress.
“To deliver a report, an incredibly in-depth report, about the events that transpired leading up to it, the day’s events itself, and the aftermath is a critical, critical piece of work on behalf of the Congress for the American people,” said former Rep. Joe Crowley (D-N.Y.), a former House Democratic Caucus chair.
The president on Friday will also hold a ceremony to award the Presidential Citizens Medal to a dozen election workers and law enforcement officers who stood up for democracy and helped defend the Capitol in the days surrounding Jan. 6, 2021.
Among the recipients are several Capitol Police officers, former Arizona House Speaker Rusty Bowers, Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson and Georgia election workers Ruby Freeman and Shaye Moss, according to the White House.
Giving away the Presidential Citizens Medal on the anniversary is an indicator that Biden wants to put aside the partisans nature of Jan. 6 and bring people together, Crowley said.
“It really was the American people that were attacked and putting aside the partisanship, I don’t know — those men and women in blue — what their political affiliation is like and the president probably doesn’t know either. But it’s relevant,” the former congressman said.
“The actions they took that day was to protect the temple of democracy as best they could under those circumstances, and they all put their lives on the line. Some of them lost their lives as a result of that,” he added.
Among the recipients is Capitol Police officer Brian Sicknick, who will receive the award posthumously. He died from a stroke the day after Jan. 6 and was laid in honor in the Capitol rotunda.
While Jan. 6 is of moral importance to Biden, some Democrats also believe the president’s frequent focus on the insurrection also carries political weight.
They noted that Biden delivered multiple speeches in the weeks ahead of November’s midterm elections in which he warned that democracy itself was on the ballot, cautioning the public against supporting election deniers and those willing to undermine basic democratic norms to gain power.
“When I saw that mob brutally attack the United States Capitol on January 6th, 2021, I felt the same thing: We’re in a battle for the soul of the nation,” Biden said at a campaign event in August.
The message resonated with voters to a degree, as several fringe GOP candidates at the state and federal level lost competitive races. Democrats overperformed expectations to add a seat to their Senate majority and avoid a blowout in the House.
“From the pure political point of view, I think he was initiated in the belief that voters care about that, and they flatly rejected the highest-profile election deniers and they did it because those people feel extreme,” Bennett said. “So setting up that contrast is politically important, but the central reason is I think he believes it’s of vital importance.”
The Jan. 6 anniversary comes during a chaotic week for House Republicans, who are divided over who should serve as their next Speaker. Biden earlier this week called the situation in the Capitol “embarrassing” and “not a good look” for the rest of the world.
Biden is expected to continue discussing the “battle for the soul of the nation” in his third year in office, a concept that was first introduced in his 2020 run and helped form his vision for his presidency when he ran against Trump.
“Whether it’s under a more heightened circumstances we’ve had these past few years or even in less threatening years, we need to be reminded of the fragility of democracy, and I think the president will continue to do that,” Crowley said.