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 CornynCOVID-19 bill limiting liability would strike the wrong balance From a Republican donor to Senate GOP: Remove marriage penalty or risk alienating voters Skepticism grows over Friday deadline for coronavirus deal MORE (R-Texas) to make Juneteenth a federal holiday is being held up by an internal Senate GOP squabble.

Sen. Ron JohnsonRonald (Ron) Harold JohnsonBlumenthal calls for declassification of materials detailing Russian threat to US elections Democrats try to force Trump to boost medical supplies production GOP chairmen hit back at accusation they are spreading disinformation with Biden probe 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 LankfordSenate GOP opens door to smaller coronavirus deal as talks lag Ballooning Fed balance sheet sparks GOP concerns  The Hill's Coronavirus Report: Rep. Lauren Underwood says Americans face economic crisis if Senate fails to act on unemployment benefits extension; US surpasses 4 million cases, 1,000+ deaths for third straight day 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 MarkeyEdward (Ed) John MarkeySanders offers bill to tax billionaires' wealth gains during pandemic Senate Democrats demand answers on migrant child trafficking during pandemic Budowsky: Why I back Kennedy, praise Markey MORE (D-Mass.) to make Juneteenth a federal holiday last month. Its co-sponsors include Sens. Cory BookerCory Anthony BookerSenate Democrats demand answers on migrant child trafficking during pandemic Senate Democrats push to include free phone calls for incarcerated people in next relief package Ex-USAID employee apologizes, denies sending explosive tweets MORE (D-N.J.), Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisBiden campaign says no VP pick yet after bike trail quip Hillary Clinton roasts NYT's Maureen Dowd over column Biden edges closer to VP pick: Here's who's up and who's down MORE (D-Calif.), Tim ScottTimothy (Tim) Eugene ScottLobbyists see wins, losses in GOP coronavirus bill Revered civil rights leader Rep. John Lewis lies in state in the Capitol GOP plan would boost deduction for business meals MORE (R-S.C.) and Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsCoronavirus deal key to Republicans protecting Senate majority From a Republican donor to Senate GOP: Remove marriage penalty or risk alienating voters The Hill's Campaign Report: Trump's visit to battleground Ohio overshadowed by coronavirus 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.