Democrats press Schumer on removing Confederate statues from Capitol

Democrats press Schumer on removing Confederate statues from Capitol
© Greg Nash

Top House Democratic leaders and prominent members of the Congressional Black Caucus on Friday urged Senate Majority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerDemocratic frustration with Sinema rises Schumer endorses democratic socialist India Walton in Buffalo mayor's race Guns Down America's leader says Biden 'has simply not done enough' on gun control MORE (D-N.Y.) to hold a vote on House-passed legislation to remove Confederate statues from the Capitol, publicly putting pressure on a member of their own party.

The House in June passed legislation to remove artwork from the Capitol that honors people with legacies of defending slavery. That includes figures who served the Confederacy, as well as people like former Supreme Court Chief Justice Roger Taney, the author of the 1857 Dred Scott ruling that said Black people lacked the rights of citizens.

But so far, the Senate has yet to take it up amid the likelihood that Republicans would prevent it from clinching the necessary 60 votes to overcome a filibuster. A majority of Republicans in the House voted against the bill — 67 supported it, compared to 120 in opposition — and most of their Senate counterparts have indicated they would follow suit.

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The House also passed a version of the bill last year, but the Senate never acted upon it since it was still controlled by Republicans at the time.

In a letter to Schumer, top House Democrats including Majority Leader Steny HoyerSteny Hamilton HoyerPelosi: Democrats within striking distance of deal Powerful Democrats push back on one-year extension of child tax credit The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Uber - Democrats optimistic after Biden meetings MORE (Md.), Majority Whip James Clyburn (S.C.), Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) Chairwoman Joyce BeattyJoyce Birdson BeattyCiti agrees to undergo a racial audit Left warns Pelosi they'll take down Biden infrastructure bill Democrats press Schumer on removing Confederate statues from Capitol MORE (Ohio) and other members of the CBC and Maryland congressional delegation called for a Senate vote "as soon as possible."

"The House has now advanced our legislation twice. We would hope that the Senate would now move this legislation. Every moment we delay is a missed opportunity to correct historical wrongs," the lawmakers wrote.

The missive to Schumer comes days after another Democratic legislative priority to address racial injustice came up short.

A bipartisan group of lawmakers — Sens. Cory BookerCory BookerSenate Democrats call for diversity among new Federal Reserve Bank presidents Progressives push back on decision to shrink Biden's paid family leave program Emanuel to take hot seat in Senate confirmation hearing MORE (D-N.J.) and Tim ScottTimothy (Tim) Eugene ScottTim Scott takes in .3 million in third quarter Nikki Haley gets lifetime post on Clemson Board of Trustees First senator formally endorses Bass in LA mayoral bid MORE (R-S.C.) and Rep. Karen BassKaren Ruth BassDemocratic retirements could make a tough midterm year even worse First senator formally endorses Bass in LA mayoral bid Bass receives endorsement from EMILY's List MORE (D-Calif.) — acknowledged this week that their months-long negotiations on a bill to reform police tactics had collapsed.

As with the bill to remove Confederate statues from the Capitol, the House has twice passed legislation to ban chokeholds, overhaul qualified immunity and establish a national registry for police misconduct.

Numerous communities across the country have removed Confederate imagery, particularly since the 2017 white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Va., as well as amid the nationwide protests advocating for racial justice last year after the murder of George Floyd by a police officer during an arrest.

A statue of Taney has been removed from outside the Maryland state House in Annapolis, while Virginia took down a massive statue of Robert E. Lee, the Confederate general, in Richmond earlier this month.

Several Confederate statues in the Capitol are part of the National Statuary Hall collection, to which states contribute two statues of their choosing.

Some states have already moved to replace their statues in the Capitol honoring Confederate figures, including Florida, Virginia, North Carolina and Arkansas.

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A statue of Edmund Kirby Smith, a Confederate general, was removed from the Capitol in recent weeks and is set to be replaced with one of civil rights activist Mary McLeod Bethune.

Similarly, another Lee statue was removed from the Capitol last year at the request of Virginia state leaders and will be replaced with one of Barbara Johns, a civil rights activist who led a student walkout to protest school segregation.

Schumer has previously expressed support for removing Confederate statues from the Capitol. In 2020, when Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) unsuccessfully tried to pass the House-passed bill by unanimous consent, Schumer said that "I don’t think it would be too imposing to ask our states not to send statues of people who actively fought against this country."

"We have a lot of work to do to unwind centuries of racial injustice embedded in our laws and in our institutions. One of the simplest things we could do is to haul out the statues of a few old racists who represent the very antithesis of the building in which we now stand and the ideals we struggle to live up to," Schumer said at the time.