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Biden: Government must protect monuments to Washington, Jefferson

Presumptive Democratic nominee Joe BidenJoe BidenWoman accused of trying to sell Pelosi laptop to Russians arrested Trump gets lowest job approval rating in final days as president Trump moves to lift coronavirus travel restrictions on Europe, Brazil MORE on Tuesday said the federal government has a responsibility to protect statues and monuments of historical figures like George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and Christopher Columbus.

Speaking at a press conference in Wilmington, Del., the former vice president defended monuments dedicated to past presidents who owned slaves. Biden made the case that those public statues should be preserved, while monuments to Confederate leaders should be removed peacefully by local officials.

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“The idea of comparing whether or not George Washington owned slaves or Thomas Jefferson owned slaves, and somebody who was in rebellion committing treason trying to take down a union to keep slavery, I think there’s a distinction there,” Biden said.

“The idea of bringing down all those Confederate monuments to Confederate soldiers and generals who strongly supported secession and maintaining slavery and going to war to do it, I think those statues belong in museums, they don’t belong in public places," he continued. 

"I think with regard to those statues and monuments, like the Jefferson Memorial, there’s an obligation that the government protect those monuments because they’re different. That’s a remembrance, it’s not dealing with revering somebody who had that view. They had much broader views. They may have had things in their past that were now and then distasteful, but that’s a judgment.”

The former vice president argued that local governments should lead in the peaceful removal of statues glorifying the leaders of the Confederacy. But he said that he understands the “anger and anguish” of those who would like to see them toppled by protesters.

“I can understand the anger and anguish that people feel by having for years and years been under the statue of Robert E. Lee if you’re an African American,” Biden said. “It’s always better to do it peacefully … the elected officials where those statues are have a responsibility to remove, put them in museums. Get them down … and don’t be surprised if someone pulls down the statue of Jefferson Davis. It’s better that they do not, but it’s fundamentally different than … grabbing Jefferson off his chair.”

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Biden’s remarks come amid a national reckoning over race.

Protesters have been flooding the streets for weeks to demand justice over the police killing of George Floyd.

Statues commemorating Confederate leaders and Columbus have been dragged to the ground, defaced and sometimes beheaded. 

Some cities' governments across the country have vowed to remove their monuments dedicated to Columbus peacefully, as the government did in Hartford, Conn., earlier this month. 

But some protesters have also turned their anger on monuments to historical figures such as Washington and Jefferson, both of whom owned slaves.

Last week, protesters tried to bring down a statue of former President Andrew Jackson in Lafayette Square across from the White House. Jackson has been a target of protesters because of his brutal treatment of Native Americans during his presidency, as well as being a slave owner.

A statue of Washington in Chicago's Washington Park was vandalized earlier this month as well. 

President TrumpDonald TrumpGiuliani used provisional ballot to vote in 2020 election, same method he disparaged in fighting to overturn results Trump gets lowest job approval rating in final days as president Fox News' DC managing editor Bill Sammon to retire MORE last week signed an executive order aimed at protecting federal monuments and statues from vandalism.