McConnell rejects push to 'airbrush the Capitol' of Confederate statues

McConnell rejects push to 'airbrush the Capitol' of Confederate statues
© Getty

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellHillicon Valley: Facebook considers political ad ban | Senators raise concerns over civil rights audit | Amazon reverses on telling workers to delete TikTok Ernst: Renaming Confederate bases is the 'right thing to do' despite 'heck' from GOP Advocacy groups pressure Senate to reconvene and boost election funding MORE (R-Ky.) on Tuesday rejected calls to remove statues of Confederate figures from the Capitol, reiterating that he thinks the decision should be made by states.

"What I do think is clearly a bridge too far is this nonsense that we need to airbrush the Capitol and scrub out everybody from years ago who had any connection to slavery," McConnell told reporters when asked about an unrelated provision in a defense bill that would change Confederate-named bases.

"You know, there were eight presidents who owned slaves. Washington did. Jefferson did. Madison did. Monroe did. Look, as far as the statues are concerned, every state gets two. Any state can trade out, as Sen. [Roy] Blunt [R-Mo.] pointed out, if they choose to. And some actually are choosing to," he added.

ADVERTISEMENT

Lawmakers are embroiled in a debate about whether to remove the statues within the Capitol as similar figures have been toppled across the country. Democrats, including House Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiAs coronavirus surges, Trump tries to dismantle healthcare for millions Sunday shows preview: Coronavirus poses questions about school safety; Trump commutes Roger Stone sentence Pelosi plans legislation to limit pardons, commutations after Roger Stone move MORE (Calif.), are calling for the statues' removal.

There are currently 11 statues of Confederate figures displayed in various quarters of the Capitol complex as part of the National Statuary Hall collection. Each of the 50 states contributes two statues to the collection, which they can replace if a change is approved by their state legislature and governor.

But Republicans have warned that Congress cannot remove the statues without passing a new law, something GOP lawmakers have signaled that they are not inclined to do. Both McConnell and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthyKevin Owen McCarthySupreme Court rulings reignite Trump oversight wars in Congress The Hill's Campaign Report: Florida's coronavirus surge raises questions about GOP convention McCarthy calls NY requests for Trump tax returns political MORE (R-Calif.) said last week that they believe the decision should be left up to 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 last week.

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

ADVERTISEMENT

However, on Tuesday, McConnell did signal an openness to renaming military installations named after Confederate figures, something President TrumpDonald John TrumpDeSantis on Florida schools reopening: 'If you can do Walmart,' then 'we absolutely can do schools' NYT editorial board calls for the reopening of schools with help from federal government's 'checkbook' Mueller pens WaPo op-ed: Roger Stone 'remains a convicted felon, and rightly so' MORE has indicated he would oppose.

A provision included in a mammoth defense bill, which still needs to be passed by the Senate, would create a commission to come up with a plan to rename the bases, which would then be implemented after three years.

"I can only speak for myself on this issue. If it's appropriate to take another look at these names, I'm personally OK with that. ... Whatever is ultimately decided, I don't have a problem with," McConnell said.