House to vote next week on ridding Capitol of Confederate statues

Bonnie Cash

The House will vote next week on legislation to remove statues in the Capitol of people who served in the Confederacy or who otherwise worked to uphold slavery, Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) announced Monday.

Lawmakers will vote next Wednesday on a bill that Hoyer unveiled on Monday with five senior members of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC). 

“It is reprehensible that individuals who did so much to divide our country and dehumanize African Americans are honored in the halls of Congress,” Hoyer said in the statement. “I hope all of my colleagues on both sides of the aisle will join us in supporting this bill to right historical wrongs and ensure that the only people honored with busts and statues in the Capitol are those whose actions furthered the causes of liberty, unity, and equal rights.” 

The legislation specifically calls for removing the 11 Confederate statues displayed throughout the Capitol complex as well as statues and busts of Roger Taney, the former Supreme Court chief justice who authored the 1857 Dred Scott ruling that Black people shouldn’t hold the rights of citizens; Charles Aycock, who served as North Carolina governor; John Calhoun, the former vice president and member of Congress known for defending slavery; and James Paul Clarke, a former senator and governor of Arkansas who advocated for white supremacy.

It incorporates a bill Hoyer introduced in March that would replace the bust of Taney, which is currently located in the old Supreme Court chamber on the Senate side of the Capitol, with one of Thurgood Marshall, the first African American Supreme Court justice.

The CBC has long advocated for removing Confederate statues from the Capitol. The effort won new momentum following the nationwide protests sparked by George Floyd’s death in police custody, which has also led to a broader examination of institutional racism in the United States.

Next Wednesday’s vote is part of an effort by House Democrats to draw a contrast on issues of racial justice with President Trump, who in recent weeks has embraced preserving Confederate monuments and threatened to veto a defense policy bill if it orders changing the names of military bases honoring Confederate officers.

The vote will come a month after Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) ordered the removal  of four portraits depicting former Speakers who served the Confederacy that had been on display near the House chamber.

The 11 statues in the Capitol complex of people who served in the Confederacy, such as army commander Robert E. Lee and president Jefferson Davis, are part of the National Statuary Hall collection. Each state contributes two statues to the collection and retains the sole authority to decide whether to replace its statues, although congressional leaders can decide where in the Capitol the statues can be on public display.

Reps. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) and Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), who joined Hoyer in introducing the bill on Monday, unveiled similar legislation last month to remove the Confederate statues from the Capitol.

Lee had also pushed for removing the statues in 2017 after the violence stemming from a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Va. Thompson, meanwhile, advocated for avoiding displays of the Mississippi flag’s Confederate emblem — which the state legislature voted last month to replace — after a white supremacist murdered nine people at an African American church in Charleston, S.C., in 2015.

“The people’s house can never really be for the people with reminders of a painful history that sought to eliminate our existence,” CBC Chairwoman Karen Bass (D-Calif.) said Monday.

Hoyer said that the House will also vote during the last week of July on a bill to establish a commission to study the social status of Black men and boys as well as legislation to create a National Museum of the Latino in the Smithsonian Institution.

In addition, Hoyer affirmed that the House will vote starting next week on multiple government spending bills that include provisions to remove Confederate monuments on federal property.

The annual legislative branch spending bill, which the House Appropriations Committee advanced last week, includes a provision reflecting the legislation that Hoyer and members of the CBC introduced Monday.

Another spending bill for the Interior Department would direct the National Park Service to remove “all physical Confederate commemorative works” including statues and memorials within 180 days. It would further ban the department from buying Confederate flags unless they are to provide historical context.

Two other spending bills would allot $1 million for the Army to rename any installations and streets honoring people who served the Confederacy and prohibit funding for construction projects on military installations named after Confederate officers unless they are being renamed.

But the first bill on the agenda when the House comes back into session next Monday will be the annual defense policy bill, which includes the provision that would order renaming military bases named after Confederate officers. The Senate version of the defense bill includes a similar provision that is supported by both Democrats and Republicans, despite Trump’s veto threat.

Tags Barbara Lee Bennie Thompson Confederate statues Donald Trump George Floyd protests Karen Bass Nancy Pelosi Steny Hoyer

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