McConnell rejects push to ‘airbrush the Capitol’ of Confederate statues
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (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.
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 Pelosi (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 McCarthy (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.
However, on Tuesday, McConnell did signal an openness to renaming military installations named after Confederate figures, something President Trump 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.