‘It goes back to 1864.’ Senator blocks motion to remove Confederate statues from Capitol

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WASHINGTON — Sen. Roy Blunt Thursday blocked an effort by Senate Democrats to remove Confederate statues from the U.S. Capitol.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., attempted to pass by unanimous consent a bill to remove from the U.S. Capitol 11 statues that commemorate Confederate officials and Vice President John C. Calhoun of South Carolina (1825-1832), a champion of slavery.

Booker noted the statues were added to the Capitol during the Jim Crow era of racial segregation, when the lynching of Blacks was common.

“We cannot separate the Confederate statues from this history and legacy of white supremacy in this country,” said Booker, one of only three Black senators currently in office.

Blunt, the Missouri Republican who chairs the Senate Rules Committee, objected and blocked the motion. He pointed out that his committee had just been assigned the legislation and that he would like to potentially hold a hearing on it before moving forward.

He also argued that the motion would violate an agreement which gives each state the right to choose two historical figures to be displayed in the Capitol. The rule was adopted during the Civil War.

“Each of these states would have the right to remove these statutes and some are. This is an agreement with the states. It goes back to 1864,” Blunt said.

Congress passed a law in 2000 that enabled states to replace statues with approval of governors and state legislatures.

Since that time, several Southern states have replaced Confederate statues with ones that honor Civil Rights leaders, Blunt noted.

States have also swapped statues for other reasons. Missouri passed legislation last year to replace 19th century Sen. Thomas Hart Benton with President Harry Truman.

The Senate bill comes amid a larger debate on racial justice in the United States following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

There is also a push to rename 10 U.S. Army bases named for Confederate officials, a change that Blunt said he was open to supporting because the federal government can make that change on its own under current law.

“I expressed my belief that it would be absolutely appropriate, in my view, to review the names of the forts… that are named after Confederate military leaders and change those names. And we can do that all on our own,” Blunt said, contrasting the base names with the statue selections which he argued require state-level approval.

Missouri’s other Republican senator, Josh Hawley, has vehemently opposed the effort to rename military bases and has promised to bring an amendment to strip out the provision when the Senate votes on the defense authorization bill in the near future.

Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, a Missouri Democrat, called for the removal of the Confederate statues by invoking the name of his great-great-grandfather who was born into slavery.

“The Civil War was fought in no small part about whether Frank Harrison Cleaver, and millions like him, would become a free man or remain human chattel. To a very sizable portion of the American people, Confederate names and statues glorified in the Halls of Congress and the bases of our armed forces are deeply insulting,” Cleaver said in a statement Friday.

“The American people have made it clear that they will no longer accept the glorification of those who would take up arms against their own nation in defense of the barbaric institution of slavery. The time has come for the names and statues to be relegated to the history books and museums where they belong.”


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