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GOP senators debate replacing Columbus Day with Juneteenth as a federal holiday

Republican senators are debating whether Juneteenth, a day that commemorates the end of slavery in the United States, should replace Columbus Day on the federal government’s list of official holidays.

A bipartisan bill sponsored by Sen. John CornynJohn CornynBipartisan lawmakers want Biden to take tougher action on Nicaragua Bipartisan Senate group announces infrastructure deal McConnell: 'Good chance' for infrastructure deal after talks unravel MORE (R-Texas) to make Juneteenth a federal holiday is being held up by an internal Senate GOP squabble.

Sen. Ron JohnsonRonald (Ron) Harold JohnsonHillicon Valley: House targets tech giants with antitrust bills | Oversight chair presses JBS over payment to hackers | Trump spokesman to join tech company | YouTube suspends GOP senator YouTube suspends Ron Johnson for 7 days GOP senators introduce bill to make Iran deal subject to Senate approval MORE (R-Wis.), an outspoken budget hawk, doesn’t want to add another paid holiday to the calendar.

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Johnson says if Juneteenth is made a federal holiday, another paid federal holiday should come off the schedule. He’s proposing scrapping Columbus Day but is open to eliminating another holiday instead.

“I’m just saying let’s replace it with something. I chose Columbus Day just because it’s probably the most lightly celebrated and less disruptive to anybody’s schedule” to cut from the calendar of federal holidays, he said. 

Johnson on Wednesday said “we have an alternate bill” and that he is “talking to some of my colleagues.”

Johnson said he’s “happy to celebrate the emancipation with a national holiday but I just don’t think we should be, when we’re already blowing a hole in the budget right now, offering another paid day off for federal employees.”

Cornyn, who is up for reelection this fall, has put his bill in the “hotline,” which means he’s checking in with Senate colleagues about moving his Juneteenth bill to the floor soon and passing it by unanimous consent or voice vote. But Johnson has put a hold on the legislation.

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Sen. James LankfordJames Paul LankfordPolice reform negotiations enter crucial stretch GOP turns against Jan. 6 probe as midterm distraction The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Biden wants Congress to pass abortion bill, pushes for Mideast cease-fire MORE (R-Okla.) is a co-sponsor of Johnson’s proposal, according to a draft of legislative text obtained by The Hill.

A Republican aide said Johnson’s proposal has been filed as a substitute amendment to Cornyn’s bill making Juneteenth a federal holiday.

Cornyn, however, says it would be “problematic” to cut Columbus Day, which celebrates the Italian explorer who is widely credited with being the first European to discover the American continent. Columbus Day has long been popular with Italian Americans, in particular.

Cornyn said swapping in Juneteenth and cutting out Columbus Day “dilutes the message we’re trying to send, which is one of being respectful and honoring and remembering our history.”

“I think that’s problematic,” he said of the Johnson counteroffer. “We’re working through all those things right now we just don’t have an answer right this second.”

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Cornyn, who faces a potentially competitive reelection race, introduced his bill with Sen. Ed MarkeyEd MarkeyClimate progressives launch first action against Biden amid growing frustration Senate Democrats urge Google to conduct racial equity audit Senate climate advocates start digging in on infrastructure goals MORE (D-Mass.) to make Juneteenth a federal holiday last month. Its co-sponsors include Sens. Cory BookerCory BookerTeen who filmed Floyd murder awarded honorary Pulitzer Senate confirms first Muslim American federal judge Police reform negotiations enter crucial stretch MORE (D-N.J.), Kamala HarrisKamala HarrisMeghan McCain: Harris 'sounded like a moron' discussing immigration I visited the border and the vice president should too Texas governor announces plan to build southern border wall MORE (D-Calif.), Tim ScottTimothy (Tim) Eugene ScottThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Bipartisan group reaches infrastructure deal; many questions remain Black Republican advocates his case for CBC membership Scott: 'Lot of work left' in police reform talks MORE (R-S.C.) and Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsWhy the Democrats need Joe Manchin White House briefed on bipartisan infrastructure deal but says questions remain Bipartisan Senate group announces infrastructure deal MORE (R-Maine).

The Senate passed a resolution sponsored by Cornyn honoring Juneteenth last month. The day is celebrated by 47 states, including Texas, as well as the District of Columbia. 

Johnson estimates a single federal holiday costs the government about $600 million in paid time off for federal employees.

Lankford in a statement said that while Juneteenth deserves to be remembered, Congress needs to weigh the economic impact of adding to the total of federal holidays.

“Throughout our history, we have strived to become a more perfect union and Juneteenth was a huge step in attaining that goal. We should celebrate these strides on the federal level while remaining cognizant of the impact the existing 10 federal holidays have on federal services and local businesses,” he said.