Senate passes bill to make Juneteenth a federal holiday

The Senate on Tuesday unanimously passed legislation to make Juneteenth, which celebrates the emancipation of formerly enslaved African Americans, a federal holiday.

The bill — whose passage comes just days ahead of Juneteenth, which is celebrated on June 19 — still needs to pass the House. But it's a major step forward after a similar resolution had been blocked in recent years by Republican senators.

“The freedom of all Americans that Texas celebrates every Juneteenth should be celebrated all across the nation,” said Sen. John CornynJohn CornynBiden's bipartisan deal faces Senate gauntlet Senate votes to take up infrastructure deal Biden officials pledge to confront cybersecurity challenges head-on MORE (Texas), the lead GOP sponsor, in a statement. “The passage of this bill represents a big step in our nation’s journey toward equality.  I thank my colleagues in the Senate for their support, and my fellow Texans who have been celebrating this important holiday for more than a century.”

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Sen. Ed MarkeyEd MarkeyHuman rights can't be a sacrificial lamb for climate action Nearly 140 Democrats urge EPA to 'promptly' allow California to set its own vehicle pollution standards Senate Democrats press administration on human rights abuses in Philippines MORE (D-Mass.), who sponsored the bill, was presiding over the chamber when Senate Majority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerManchin on reported boos at Democratic luncheon: 'I heard a lot of nos' Wisconsin GOP quietly prepares Ron Johnson backup plans Senate infrastructure talks spill over into rare Sunday session MORE (D-N.Y.) successfully got it passed.

While Juneteenth commemorates the abolishment of slavery, the date isn't a reference to the end of legal slavery in the United States but to the time when enslaved people in Texas learned of their freedom.

Sen. Ron JohnsonRonald (Ron) Harold JohnsonWisconsin GOP quietly prepares Ron Johnson backup plans Biden's bipartisan deal faces Senate gauntlet Trump urged DOJ officials to call election corrupt 'and leave the rest to me' MORE (R-Wis.), who was viewed as the key holdout, announced earlier Tuesday that he had dropped his objection to passing the bill, clearing its path in the Senate.

"While it still seems strange that having taxpayers provide federal employees paid time off is now required to celebrate the end of slavery, it is clear that there is no appetite in Congress to further discuss the matter. Therefore, I do not intend to object," Johnson said in a statement.

Johnson had previously objected to the resolution last year, arguing that it gave federal workers another paid day off. Johnson had floated swapping Juneteenth with Columbus Day on the federal government's list of holidays. 

A poll released by Gallup on Tuesday found that more Americans were in favor of making Juneteenth a national holiday than not. 

According to the poll, nearly 35 percent of Americans believe that Juneteenth should become a federal holiday, while only about 25 percent are against it. Forty percent of Americans are undecided on the matter.