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Congress defies its own law, fails to install plaque honoring Jan. 6 police officers

Congress fails to install plaque honoring Jan. 6 police officers
Congress defies its own law, fails to install plaque honoring Jan. 6 police officers 01:30

In a Congress stuck in gridlock, legislators have grown accustomed to sluggishness in their Capitol Hill work. But Rep. Zoe Lofgren, a California Democrat who has represented a Northern California Bay Area district since 1995, is infuriated by one particular hold-up. 

"My letters have not been answered. And it's a mystery to me," Lofgren said, throwing her hands up in frustration as she spoke with CBS News just off the U.S. House floor a few days ago. 

Lofgren and a group of other top House Democrats are questioning why a small plaque to honor police officers who saved the Capitol — and the lawmakers and staffers working there — on Jan. 6, 2021 was not completed or installed by the March 2023 deadline required by law.   

In a letter sent this month to House Speaker Mike Johnson and obtained by CBS News, Lofgren wrote, "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."

spending bill passed and signed into law in March 2023 required the creation of a plaque listing the names of officers who served on Jan. 6 and required it to be placed on the western front of the Capitol, the site of some of the most violent attacks against officers.

A CBS News review of the dispute over the plaque — and the delay in its completion — yielded unclear responses from House leadership and revealed concerns that the honorary plaque is mired in the toxic politics of 2024 and has fallen victim to the fight over the election denialism that arose after President Biden won the 2020 presidential election.

Lofgren, who served on the House Select Jan. 6 select committee that investigated the attack and former President Trump's efforts to overturn thatelection, said the plaque is an important honor for officers.  "Officers were brutally attacked. Yet, the plaque hasn't been finished," she said. "It's wrong. Not complying with the law is also disrespectful to the officers who saved our lives."

Page 130 of the legislation says that the plaque required several congressional committees to compile a list of names of all the officers who responded to the Jan. 6 violence, including the House and Senate Appropriations Committees and the Committee on House Administration.

Democrats on the House and Senate committees told CBS News they had completed their work in composing the list of officers' names. One House aide said, "Democrats have fulfilled all of our obligations and the installation of the plaque is long overdue."

But Republicans on a House Appropriations subcommittee declined to answer questions about its progress and instead referred CBS News to the Speaker's office.

A spokesperson for House Speaker Mike Johnson answered no questions about the progress of the work on the plaque or offer an explanation for the delay. The spokesperson instead issued a statement to CBS News, which said, "The Speaker's office is working with the (Architect of the Capitol) to get the plaque mounted."

The delay has angered some of the police officers who responded on Jan. 6 and have since been critical of Trump and his allies for denying the results of the 2020 election.   

Retired Capitol Police Sgt. Aqulino Gonell told CBS News, "The plaque should be installed immediately. And the Capitol Police Board should make it accessible so the American people can understand the danger we faced and the magnitude of our sacrifices protecting our leaders."

"I protected elected officials, regardless of party affiliation, including those who have sided with the rioters by calling them hostages," Gonell continued.

Earlier this month, Congress appointed a new architect of the Capitol, who will oversee the Capitol grounds and the hundreds of historic markers and pieces on site.  

Top Democrats have ratcheted up their criticism of Johnson over the plaque. Rep. Bennie Thompson, a Mississippi Democrat who chaired the House Jan. 6 select committee, told CBS News, "The Speaker of the House has to do it. But for some reason he has chosen not to. It's disrespectful to the men and women who defended this institution."

House Democratic Leader Hakeem Jeffries, too, recently criticized the delay.

The proposal for the plaque was introduced at a June 2021 House Appropriations hearing. GOP Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler of Washington urged colleagues to support the plaque. 

"We should never forget their courage," she said of the officers and the plaque during the hearing.

"Establishing a plaque," she continued, "will be a stark and permanent reminder of the sacrifice those officers made that day."   

Herrera Beutler was one of 10 House Republicans who voted to impeach Trump after the Jan. 6 attack. She was defeated in a Republican primary election in 2022, with Trump supporting her primary opponent. 

In Lofgren's May 6 letter to Johnson, she urged the House "to take immediate action to address this oversight and ensure that the plaque is promptly installed in accordance with the law." 

If there is a reason for the delay, I look forward to any information you can share to that end and what is being done to address it," she wrote.  

No one has responded from the speaker's office.

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