McConnell: States should make decision on Confederate statues

Greg Nash

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said on Thursday that the decision whether to remove Confederate statues from the U.S. Capitol should be left up to the states.

“Every state is allowed two statues, they can trade them out at any time … a number of states are trading them out now. But I think that’s the appropriate way to deal with the statue issue. The states make that decision,” McConnell told reporters.

“I think the appropriate way to deal with this issue is to stick with the tradition,” he added.

Asked if they could move the statues somewhere else, McConnell didn’t directly say if he would support that but said “the location is another matter.” He ignored a follow up question on if he would support moving the statues.

His comments come after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) wrote in a letter to Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) and Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), the chairman and vice chairwoman of the Joint Committee on the Library, that the statues should not be displayed on the Capitol campus.

“Monuments to men who advocated cruelty and barbarism to achieve such a plainly racist end are a grotesque affront to these ideals. Their statues pay homage to hate, not heritage. They must be removed,” she wrote.

The Capitol’s Statuary Hall consists of 100 statues; each state commissions two to be displayed in the Capitol. Pelosi is asking for 11 of them to be removed, including Jefferson Davis and Alexander Stephens, president and vice president of the Confederate States of America.

In addition to McConnell, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) said “states have the power to select who to come forward.” 

Lofgren appeared to agree with Pelosi and urged the committee to “swiftly approve the removal of these statues.” Blunt, however, said on Thursday that Congress would have to pass a new law to remove the statues from the Capitol entirely.

“The Congress could change any law they want to. If they want to change a law and say ‘no, we’re now going to decide what statues can have in,’ they could certainly do that. But there’s no authority to move statues out of the Capitol short of that. … Unless you change the law you can’t move them out of the Capitol,” he said.

“If the Speaker and the leaders and the you know the House, the Senate and the president want to change the law, I’d certainly be glad to do whatever I needed to comply,” he added.

Pressed on Democrats who seem to think that a majority vote on the Joint Committee on the Library would be enough to remove the statues, Blunt replied: “No, no, no, no.”

“If the Speaker thinks that is the law, the Speaker is wrong on that,” Blunt said, while noting that it was “possible” that the statues could be moved to a less prominent location in the Capitol.

Pelosi’s effort comes after the killing of George Floyd, an unarmed black man who died in Minneapolis police custody after an officer knelt on his neck for more than eight minutes, sparking protests around the country and calls for reforms to the criminal justice system, including police funding.

Efforts have been made in a number of locations outside of Washington to remove Confederate symbols, with Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D) announcing the planned removal last week of a massive statue of Robert E. Lee in Richmond, though that move has been temporarily blocked by a judge.

Tags Capitol Hill Confederacy Confederate Kevin McCarthy Mitch McConnell Nancy Pelosi Roy Blunt statues Zoe Lofgren
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