Energy & Environment

Democrats target Confederate monuments in spending bill

Greg Nash

House Democrats are seeking to get rid of Confederate statues and memorials from National Park Service (NPS) land by including requirements in a new appropriations bill to do so.

A similar effort failed in 2015, but proponents feel they have a better chance this year amid the national reckoning on race following the May 25 police killing of George Floyd.

The fiscal 2021 spending bill for the Interior Department, which oversees the National Park Service, would require NPS to remove all Confederate statues, monuments and plaques unless prohibited by a law or policy. It also would ban NPS from using funds in the bill to purchase or display the Confederate flag except in “specific circumstances where the flags provide historical context.”

“Our constituents are demanding that we dismantle the legacy of slavery as captured in the Confederate monuments and flags throughout the country,” said Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) during a markup of the bill. “These symbols, they celebrate who fought to continue the enslavement of Africans brought to America in chains 401 years ago.”

The appropriations measure also would require the Interior secretary to submit to Congress an inventory of its assets that have Confederate names.

When reached for comment, Interior spokesperson Ben Goldey said in email that NPS “preserves these and other memorials, often as features of a historic landscape, and offers interpretive context for the benefit of all visitors.”

“The Department supports the use of the legislative and regulatory process by the President and Congress, rather than lawless vandalism, to make important decisions about removing symbols of historical events,” Goldey added.

Nationwide protests against police brutality and racial injustice following Floyd’s death have amplified calls to remove Confederate monuments and statues. Proponents of their removal argue that the statues are a celebration of slavery and those who fought to protect it.

President Trump and several of his Cabinet members have criticized efforts to take down such statues.

The president has called for 10 years imprisonment for anyone who defaces national monuments. Interior Secretary David Bernahrdt has condemned the damage to monuments during recent protests and called for National Guard assistance to protect monuments in Washington, D.C.

Democrats in Congress have taken several steps this year to address the issue of Confederate names and imagery on federal property. Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) in June ordered the removal of Confederate portraits in the Capitol. That same month she called for the removal of 11 Confederate statues displayed in the Capitol complex.

There is also bipartisan momentum to include a provision in a massive defense policy bill that would rename bases that are named after Confederate generals.

The renewed effort by congressional Democrats to remove Confederate statues by way of the appropriations process comes five years after an unsuccessful attempt to do so.

In 2015, when Republicans were in the majority, House lawmakers adopted an amendment from Rep. Jared Huffman (D-Calif.) to ban the display of Confederate flags in national cemeteries. The measure was adopted by voice vote without any opposition.

But a group of Republicans later threatened to oppose the entire Interior spending bill if it included the amendment, which was ultimately dropped.

Democrats think this year will be different given the national spotlight and racial inequalities.

“Our country has moved since 2015,” Rep. Betty McCollum (D-Minn.), who leads the appropriations subcommittee that deals with the Interior Department, told The Hill in an interview. “States have changed their flags. Universities and colleges and schools have changed the way in which the confederate symbols are used and displayed.”

The Confederate flag is often “a way to incite fear and intimidation and for many people it’s a symbol of hate,” she added. “People are wise to that now and they’re standing up.”

Democrats are also now in the majority in the House.

The House Appropriations Committee advanced the Interior spending bill in a largely party-line vote,  30-19, without any noted GOP opposition to the provision on Confederate statues. The measure is now awaiting a vote on the House floor.

If the provision on Confederate statues and monuments gets removed during negotiations with the GOP-controlled Senate, or if Congress ends up passing a continuing resolution for spending beyond Oct. 1, McCollum said she will continue the fight.

“It’s a top priority of us here in the House, House Democrats particularly, to make sure that the federal government is not involved … to promote people feeling uncomfortable [and] people feeling intimidated,” she said.

Tags Appropriations Barbara Lee Betty McCollum Confederate statues Donald Trump Jared Huffman Nancy Pelosi

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