In a speech on the House floor earlier Tuesday, Hoyer invoked the January 6 uprising as a “watershed moment — as such evil permeates the halls of the United States Capitol.” But Hoyer said African Americans who spent decades working in the Capitol were all too familiar with the “sense of pollution of this sacred space.”
“As they enter the solemn old chamber of the Supreme Court and gaze into the cold, marbled Roger Brooke Taney, they are reminded that at one point the highest court in our country… declared black lives didn’t matter,” said Hoyer.
The legislation would also remove any other statues or busts of people who have voluntarily served in the Confederacy from public display in the US Capitol. It would remove former Vice President John C. Calhoun, Governor of North Carolina Charles B. Aycock and Senator John P. Clarke from Arkansas, all of whom promoted slavery and white supremacy. There are 12 Confederate statues in the Capitol collection.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy announced his decision to vote in favor of the bill earlier Tuesday, stressing that “all statues removed by this bill are statues of Democrats.” This brought Rep. Karen Bass (D-Calif.) to ask if her Republican colleagues knew about the “entire history of the civil rights movement” and the transformation of the two political parties.
The mood comes as the House grapples with extremism within its own ranks. This week, McCarthy has to deal with a far-right Republican who has ties to white nationalists. Rep. Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.) will reportedly attend a fundraiser with Nick Fuentes, a white nationalist and the organizer of the America First Political Action Conference. Gosar has denied the reports.
Hoyer’s similar legislation passed the House last summer, by more than 300 votes — 72 from Republicans. The Republican-controlled Senate did not adopt the legislation.
Hoyer reintroduced the legislation in May, saying, “It’s never too late to do the right thing.” While it has a higher chance of passing through the Senate this time around, it will likely suffer a similar fate with the slim majority of Democrats in the Senate.
Lawmakers again cheered the passage on Tuesday, attempting again last summer when protesters demanded justice and action for the police murder of George Floyd — fueling further discussions about the role of Confederate symbols in public spaces.
“I was proud to vote today with my colleagues for #RemoveHate from the Capitol,” Hoyer tweeted after the vote. “Today’s vote was a vote to uphold the principles of equality and justice on which our nation is founded. Hate, racism and bigotry have no place here.”
sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) also praised the House move late Tuesday, adding that she looked forward to working on its passage in the Senate.
“It has been a long time since we removed Confederate statues from the Capitol. Our public spaces should represent our fight for freedom and justice for all — not hateful symbols of the Confederacy,” Klobuchar said in a statement. “Now that this legislation has been passed by the House, I look forward to working to get it passed quickly. in the Senate.”
The placement of Confederate statues in the Capitol has been a tricky problem for Democratic lawmakers to navigate. In 1864, Congress invited states to send two statues to be included in the National Statuary Hall collection, and the legislative body has no authority to replace them.
Many states have voluntarily replaced the statues in question, such as Virginia’s move to recall a statue of Robert E. Lee and replace it with civil rights leader Barbara Johns. North Carolina has also announced plans to replace the statue of Aycock, a prominent white supremacist leader in the state, with that of Reverend Billy Graham. If Hoyer’s bill passes the Senate, the Capitol’s architect would have the power to remove the statues from public view.
Speaking to the House on Tuesday, Speaker Nancy Pelosi referred to another piece of legislation — the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act — that has been suspended in the Senate. She asked members how they could “end the scourge of racism” — noting that police reform legislation is a way forward — “when we allow the worst perpetrators of that racism to be praised in the halls of Congress.” .”
Sarah Ferris and Nicholas Wu contributed to this report.