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U.S. Capitol Historical Society Gives 2023 Freedom Award to Former House Clerk Cheryl Johnson, who Oversaw the Longest Speaker Race Since Before the Civil War
Society Gives Freedom Award to House Clerk Appointed by Democratic and Republican Speakers; Johnson Organized Members During Historic Speaker Race and After January 6
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, the U.S. Capitol Historical Society (USCHS) announced that the recipient of its 2023 Freedom Award is Cheryl Johnson, the 36th Clerk of the House of Representatives. The Society selected Johnson for her leadership during two of the most contentious events in Congressional history: after her appointment by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA)—and following the events of January 6, 2021—Johnson organized Members while they certified the 2020 Presidential Election. Then—as acting presiding officer of the House—she maintained order and decorum during the longest Speaker race since before the Civil War. Afterward, she was reappointed by House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA).
“Throughout American history, Congress has seen disunity between, and within, its political parties. But our system endures because of the work of largely unsung heroes like the 36th Clerk of the House, Cheryl Johnson,” said Jane L. Campbell, President and CEO of the U.S. Capitol Historical Society. “Our democracy not only depends on public servants who quietly keep our government functioning every day, month, and year. It requires officers like her who maintain orderliness in times of disorder; and who cross divides in times of overwhelming division. For her leadership during two of the most contentious events in Congressional history, the U.S. Capitol Historical Society is honored to award Cheryl Johnson our 2023 Freedom Award.”
“The bravery and resilience of Clerk staff that I witnessed during my challenging tenure is a source of enduring pride for me and for our nation’s democracy,” said Cheryl L. Johnson, 36th Clerk of the U.S. House of Representatives. “It is on their behalf that I humbly accept this esteemed award.”
In light of this remarkable achievement, a reception in National Statuary Hall to honor Clerk Johnson is scheduled for mid-February. The U.S. Capitol Historical Society created its Freedom Award to honor individuals who exhibit extraordinary dedication to freedom, democracy, and representative government. Through their actions, recipients advanced a greater public understanding of, and appreciation for, freedom as represented by Congress and the U.S. Capitol. The Freedom Award was first presented on September 17, 1993, on the eve of the 200th anniversary of George Washington laying the cornerstone of the U.S. Capitol. The award is named for “Freedom,” the statue that graces the Capitol’s Dome. To learn more about the Freedom Award, including past recipients, please visit the Society’s website HERE.
On January 3, 2021, Johnson was sworn in as Clerk of the House for the 117th Congress by Speaker Pelosi. At 1:00 pm ET on January 6, 2021, Members of Congress gathered for a joint session to count the votes of the Electoral College. Soon thereafter, rioters clashed with law enforcement outside the Capitol and breached the building. By 4:00 p.m. ET, Congressional leaders were evacuated from the Capitol. But by the early hours of January 7, Congress was able to reconvene and—after Clerk Johnson organized Members—finished its work and that of our democracy.
During the week of January 3, 2023, the 118th Congress held a vote to determine its next Speaker of the House. When no candidate received a majority on the first ballot, it marked the first time an extra ballot would be necessary since 1923. During the ensuing four days and 15 tumultuous ballots, Clerk Johnson presided over the House, maintaining order while Congress selected the officer second in our presidential line of succession. It marked the longest House Speaker race since 1860, before the Civil War.
For her character, professionalism, and impartiality, Johnson was reappointed for the 118th Congress on January 7, 2023, by Speaker McCarthy. In so being, she became a rarity in American history: a House Clerk appointed by both Democratic and Republican Speakers.
Johnson served as Clerk until June 30, 2023. The Clerk of the House, among many responsibilities:
- Certifies all bills and joint resolutions passed by the House of Representatives;
- Pending the election of a Speaker, the Clerk preserves order and decorum in the House and decides all questions of order;
- The Clerk prepares and calls the roll of Members-elect; and
- At the beginning of every session, prepares and distributes a list of reports required to be made to Congress.
Before becoming Clerk, Johnson worked for nearly 20 years in the House, followed by 10 years at the Smithsonian Institution. Most recently, she served as Director of the Smithsonian’s Office of Government Relations. In that role, she worked with Smithsonian leadership and the Board of Regents to build and maintain strong relationships with Congress. In her time on Capitol Hill, Johnson was, notably, the Chief Education and Investigative Counsel for the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, where she served as a principal policy advisor and spokesperson for the Committee.
About the U.S. Capitol Historical Society:
The U.S. Capitol Historical Society was founded in 1962 by Congressman Fred Schwengel. In 1978, The Society was chartered by Congress with the mission of educating the public on the history and heritage of the U.S. Capitol, its institutions, and the people who have served therein, in order to foster an “informed patriotism.” Societal activities include educational tours, scholarly symposia, enhancement, and preservation of the Capitol’s collection of art and artifacts, sponsorship of research on the public careers of those who have served in the Capitol, and assistance to Congressional and other Capitol offices. The Society is a nonpartisan, nonprofit, tax-exempt, educational 501(c)3 organization. To learn more about the Society, please visit CapitolHistory.org.