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Former officers who defended the US Capitol on Jan. 6 visited the Pa. House. Some GOP members jeered

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — A visit to the Pennsylvania House floor by two former police officers who helped protect the U.S. Capitol during the Jan. 6 riot of 2021 drew boos and walkouts by some Republican legislators this week.

Witnesses said the appearance Wednesday by former U.S. Capitol Police Officer Harry Dunn and his ex-boss, former Sgt. Aquilino Gonell, triggered a distinctly negative response from some Republicans, with someone even shouting that they were cowards.

House Speaker Joanna McClinton, D-Philadelphia, who welcomed Gonell and Dunn to the floor, called the GOP reaction to the former officers disrespectful. She said in a statement that many Republican members walked off the floor, turned their backs and booed.

“The GOP members’ shameful behavior was unbecoming of our institution for any guest, let alone two of the men responsible for defending our democracy during a dark day in our nation’s history,” McClinton said. ”The Republicans’ disrespect, lack of patriotism and even common decency, epitomizes the poor behavior that so many in the MAGA movement have adopted.”

In a text on Thursday, Dunn said he heard a commotion but could not make out what was being said. He thanked Republican Minority Leader Bryan Cutler of Lancaster County for taking a photo with them.

Dunn said he was “honored to be there being recognized.” The two had made an appearance a few hours earlier Wednesday on the steps of the Pennsylvania Capitol at an event coordinated by the campaign of President Joe Biden.

Video from the scene in the chamber as business was wrapping up for the week showed several Republican members and staff, including Cutler, applauding the officers. Cutler later noted House Democrats sent out a fundraising email immediately afterward.

“The truth is, I support law enforcement. I spoke to the gentlemen about the job they performed,” Cutler told reporters Wednesday afternoon. “And I think that when you look at it, I’m tired of the House speaker using the guest list and the legislative calendar for political purposes.”

The House Democratic Campaign Committee solicitation said “House Republicans couldn’t leave the floor fast enough in protest” and asked for contributions “to help us defend our democracy” and keep their House majority.

At the Biden campaign event earlier on the state Capitol steps, Dunn and Gonell were flanked by more than a dozen Democratic lawmakers. The two warned at the appearance that they see former president and current GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump as a danger to democracy.

“Donald Trump is the greatest threat to our democracy and the safety of communities across the country today,” Dunn told reporters. “He has encouraged and continues to encourage political violence. … His deranged, self-centered, obsessive quest for power is the reason violent insurrectionists assaulted me and my brave colleagues.”

Hundreds of law enforcement officers were beaten and bloodied in the attack by Trump supporters, who descended after a rally and smashed into the Capitol while Trump remained silent for hours.

Gonell said the attackers assaulted him repeatedly. He recounted how he was beaten, punched, kicked and hit with his own baton in the head. Someone tried to drag him into the mob and beat him with an American flag still attached to a flagpole, he said. Gonell said his injuries required two surgeries.

“Donald Trump called the people who injured me and attacked our Capitol hostages, patriots and political prisoners. If those people are those things, who are we?” Gonnell said, adding that the officers on Jan. 6 were defending elected officials from both parties “regardless of their political ideology,”

Dunn, who is Black, has previously described how the crowd in the Capitol yelled racial slurs at him, something that never happened while he was on duty during more than a dozen years on the force.

Rep. Mike Schlossberg, D-Lehigh, said he witnessed his Republican colleagues’ response on Wednesday and heard one member refer to Trump supporter Ashli Babbitt, who was shot and killed by police inside the U.S. Capitol during the rioting.

He said he saw two Republican members walking out and that other Democrats reported that as many as 10 GOP House members did so. It was a notable contrast to the solemn respect that normally greets soldiers and police officers when they are recognized on the House floor, he said.

The cheering that can be heard on a video of the House activity was a Democratic attempt to loudly cheer over the booing, Schlossberg said.

“It was despicable and it was an embarrassment,” he said. “This is the party that supposedly cherishes law and order.”

Mark Scolforo And Marc Levy, The Associated Press


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