Lawmakers honor House clerk who served during chaos of Jan. 6 and McCarthy speaker votes

FILE - The U.S. Capitol is seen at sunrise, Feb. 7, 2024, in Washington. The Senate has passed an emergency spending package that would provide military aid to Ukraine and Israel, replenish U.S. weapons systems and provide food, water and other humanitarian aid to civilians in Gaza. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana, FIle)(AP/Jose Luis Magana)

WASHINGTON (AP) — Lawmakers on Tuesday honored the official charged with maintaining order in the House during two of the chamber’s most tumultuous moments — the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol and last year’s longest race for House speaker since before the Civil War.

Cheryl Johnson, the 36th House clerk, was presented with the 2023 Freedom Award from the United States Capitol Historical Society. The award honors those who exhibit extraordinary dedication to freedom, democracy and representative government.

Leading the ceremony were the two former House speakers who benefitted most from her work as the House’s lead administrator — Democratic Rep. Nancy Pelosi and former Republican Rep. Kevin McCarthy.

Pelosi was speaker when a violent mob breached the Capitol and delayed the counting of the electoral college votes, delaying certification for several hours. And McCarthy became speaker early last year after 15 rounds of voting. He would subsequently become the first speaker to be ousted by colleagues and resigned in December.

McCarthy said during the speaker’s election there was no roadmap or ready-made script for how to proceed with the multiple speaker votes, but recalled that there was order and decorum throughout.

“For 15 rounds last year, Cheryl held the gavel with steadiness, fairness and non-partnership,” McCarthy said. “For 15 rounds, America heard Cheryl speak and they liked what they saw.”

He said that he was so struck by her work that he asked her to stay on. In doing so, she became a rarity in American history: a House clerk appointed by both Democratic and Republican speakers. She stayed on until June 2023.

Pelosi said Johnson was respected by members and staff from both political parties.

“Her diligent work kept the House moving so that we could fulfill our legislative responsibility to the American people and she did so even under many of the most trying and unprecedented of circumstances when the eyes of the world were on the Congress,” Pelosi said.

Johnson recalled the events of Jan. 6, when she said brave clerk staff stopped to protect iconic artifacts that had been on the House floor for centuries even as U.S. Capitol Police asked them to move as quickly as they could for their own protection. She said she now works with journalists who risk their lives delivering America’s stories of freedom and democracy to countries that lack a free press.

“Democracy is fragile, but it’s also stubbornly resilient and each of us have a role to play in ensuring its longevity,” Johnson said during the ceremony at the Capitol.

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