In a vote of 285 to 120, Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives have approved a measure to remove all statues honoring Confederate leaders from public display within the U.S. Capitol in Washington D.C. All “no” votes on the issue came from Republicans.
Barbara Sprunt of NPR has reported that “the legislation, H.R. 3005, would direct the architect of the Capitol to identify and remove all statues and busts that depict members of the Confederacy from public display within 45 days of the resolution’s enactment. Any removed statue that was provided to the Capitol by a state would be returned to the state, which could then elect to replace it with another honoree.”
According to Sprunt, the House measure also “specifically mentions the removal of statues of Charles Brantley Aycock, John Caldwell Calhoun and James Paul Clarke — three men who defended slavery and segregation.”
“The legislation also calls for the removal of the bust of [former Chief Justice Roger Brooke] Taney, author of the Dred Scott decision, which declared that Black Americans weren’t citizens of the U.S. and thus couldn’t sue in federal courts,” Sprunt reported. “The decision also claimed that Congress didn’t have the authority to prohibit slavery in U.S. territories. The legislation calls for the bust to be replaced with one of Thurgood Marshall, the first Black Supreme Court Justice.”
The legislation explained that although removing the bust of Taney won’t relieve or absolve the historical wrongs Congress enacted to protect the institution of slavery, the removal does symbolically express Congress’ recognition of “one of the most notorious wrongs to have ever taken place in one of its rooms.”
In a speech on the House floor ahead of the vote, Rep. Karen Bass of California said, “my ancestors built this building. Imagine how they would feel, knowing that more than 100 years after slavery was abolished in this country, we still paid homage to the very people that betrayed this country in order to keep my ancestors enslaved.”
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi also praised the effort ahead of the official vote, saying, “the halls of Congress are the very heart of our democracy. The statues that we display should embody our highest ideals as Americans, expressing who we are and who we aspire to be as a nation. Monuments to men, or people who advocated cruelty and barbarism to achieve such a plainly racist end, are a grotesque affront to those ideals.”
For their part, House Republicans were relatively demure in opposition to the measure.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California said he supported the measure and, instead, used the debate time to decry the teaching and support of critical race theory — the go-to punching bag Republicans have resorted to as of late whenever issues of race come before any legislative body.
Other Republicans complained not specifically about the bill but the legislative process, with Rep. Barry Loudermilk of Georgia saying the bill wasn’t properly “marked up” before coming to the floor for a vote.
Alabama Republican Rep. Mo Brooks was one of the few to proudly defend the place of the statues within the Capitol, saying the new bill was just another example of “cancel culture and historical revisionism.”
“I support federalism and a state’s right to decide for itself who it should honor,” he said in a statement. “As such, I will proudly vote ‘No’ on H.R. 3005. Alabama, not New Yorkers, Californians, or anyone else, should decide who we wish to honor in Alabama’s contribution to the National Statuary Collection.”
With the House approval confirmed, the bill now goes to the Senate, where its fate remains unknown. A similar bill was approved by the House last year with support from 72 Republicans, but it was never given an official Senate vote, or consideration for passage, under then-Senate Majority Leader (and opponent of all things Democratic or even slightly progressive) Mitch McConnell.