WASHINGTON – The House voted Wednesday to pass a bill that would require the removal from the Capitol of all statues honoring those who served the Confederate States of America during the Civil War.
The bill passed by a vote of 305-113. All Democrats and 72 Republicans voted for it, along with one independent, Rep. Justin Amash of Michigan.
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., who introduced the bill, said Wednesday at a news conference that removing the statues would be an act of “principle and conviction.”
“Defenders and purveyors of sedition, slavery, segregation and white supremacy have no place in this temple of liberty,” he said.
Rep. Karen Bass, D-Calif., chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, said the removal of the statues would be part of honoring the late Rep. John Lewis’ legacy, in addition to the passage of a voting rights bill.
“What he fought for every day is the exact opposite of these symbols,” she said. “Personally, as a Black lawmaker, the presence of these statues represents an acceptance of white supremacy and racism.”
The bill would require states to remove and replace any statues honoring members of the Confederacy in the National Statuary Hall Collection in the Capitol by prohibiting “persons who served as an officer or voluntarily with the Confederate States of America or of the military forces or government of a State while the State was in rebellion against the United States” from the collection.
Each state contributes two statues of people of historical importance to the National Statuary Hall – ranging from Revolutionary War hero Ethan Allen from Vermont to Helen Keller from Alabama. The bill specifically mentions the removal of statues of John C. Calhoun, Charles B. Aycock and John C. Clarke, whom it identifies as playing a major role in defending slavery and segregation.
The bill calls for the removal of a bust of former Supreme Court Chief Justice Roger Taney, who wrote the infamous Dred Scott decision in 1857, which declared slaves were not citizens and did not have the right to sue. Taney’s bust, which sits inside the Old Supreme Court Chamber in the Capitol, would be replaced with one of Thurgood Marshall, the first African American Supreme Court justice.
In a debate on the House floor, Republican lawmakers said they were open to removing Confederate statues from the Capitol.
Rep. Rodney Davis, R-Ill., said Abraham Lincoln’s tomb was in his district in central Illinois and noted the need for national unity. “Today is a day that I can say I proudly am blessed to be a member of Congress,” he said.
Rep. Tom McClintock, R-Calif., said he had no problem with the removal, especially if the states that submitted statues removed them, but he objected to removing the bust of Taney.
“If we are going to start down that road, we are going to be swapping out statues like trading cards at the whim of the moment. Our nation’s history should be made of sterner stuff,” he said.
“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,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said last month.
The debate over commemorations to Confederate figures and proponents of slavery has simmered since the Civil War ended more than 150 years ago. It boiled over recently as people protesting police brutality and racial discrimination vandalized and took down monuments of Confederate figures (and, in some cases, slavery’s opponents).
“These painful symbols of bigotry and racism have no place in our society and certainly should not be enshrined in the United States Capitol. It’s past time that we ended the glorification of men who committed treason against the United States in a concerted effort to keep African Americans in chains,” Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif., said Wednesday. She introduced similar legislation in 2017.