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House bid to remove Confederate statues at Capitol sets up fight with Senate

U.S. Capitol building at sunset in Washington, D.C., on Oct. 17, 2019. (Yuri Gripas/Abaca Press/TNS)

As demands for racial justice dominate the national consciousness, the House is moving along a draft Legislative Branch spending bill that would mandate statues of Confederates and others “with unambiguous records of racial intolerance” be removed from the Capitol.

But the top Legislative Branch appropriator on the Senate panel, Chairwoman Cindy Hyde-Smith, is not calling for the removal of Confederate statues, setting up a potential fight on the provision when it reaches the chamber. Hyde-Smith’s home state of Mississippi is the only one represented in the Capitol by statues of two Confederates: Jefferson Davis, president of the Confederate States of America, and James Zachariah George, a Confederate colonel.

Since the killing of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police in May, momentum to address racial inequality and the symbols of the nation’s racist past has spurred politicians to act.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi in June called for the removal of 11 Confederate statues from the Capitol’s National Statuary Hall Collection. The House’s $4.2 billion Legislative Branch Appropriations bill, which was reported favorably by the subcommittee Tuesday, goes further than Pelosi’s written demand.

The measure calls for the Architect of the Capitol to remove 14 statues and two busts, according to Evan Hollander, a spokesman for the House Appropriations Committee.

Hyde-Smith, a Republican, has said it’s not up to Congress to decide whether Confederate statues should represent certain states in the Capitol. Her spokesman, Chris Gallegos, offered an emailed statement that she issued last month.

“There are clear rules and procedures set for the designation, receipt, and placement of statues in the United States Capitol,” Hyde-Smith said. “Any state, including Mississippi, can avail itself to that process if it wants to exchange statues. How to best depict the history of our nation is always up for debate, but it is not the role of Congress to dictate to states which statues should be placed in the Capitol.”

George, who served as a senator, was prolific when it came to disenfranchising the Black vote. He led the construction of Mississippi’s 1890 Constitution, which effectively reduced the number of qualified Black Mississippi voters from 147,205 to 8,615, an action that resulted in a white electoral majority in every county, according to a 2017 report by the University of Mississippi Chancellor’s Advisory Committee on History and Context.

Neither George nor Davis was born in Mississippi.

Congress authorized the National Statuary Hall Collection in 1864 to allow each state to donate two statues of notable citizens “illustrious for their historic renown or for distinguished civic or military services” for display in the Capitol.

States can ask the Joint Committee on the Library of Congress to approve a replacement. Prior to this, the state’s legislature must adopt a resolution and the governor must sign off. The statue in question must have been displayed in the Capitol for at least 10 years. The committee can waive the requirement for cause if the state wants.

These items would be removed from the Capitol under the House spending bill:

The busts of John Cabell Breckinridge and Roger Brooke Taney.

These statues in the National Statuary Hall Collection: Charles Aycock (North Carolina), John C. Calhoun (South Carolina), James Paul Clarke (Arkansas), Jefferson Davis (Mississippi), James Zachariah George (Mississippi), Wade Hampton III (South Carolina), John E. Kenna (West Virginia), Robert E. Lee (Virginia), Uriah M. Rose (Arkansas), Edmund Kirby Smith (Florida), Alexander Hamilton Stephens (Georgia), Zebulon Vance (North Carolina), Joseph Wheeler (Alabama), Edward Douglass White (Louisiana).

In another response to the reckoning about race sparked by Floyd’s killing, the draft bill would also increase the transparency of the Capitol Police, a secretive department. The department, which is not subject to the Freedom of Information Act, would be held to a FOIA-like standard. It also would be required to make inspector general reports publicly available and compile reports on racial profiling by the force.

“If we are going to demand change throughout the country, we must show that we are willing to start in our own backyard,” Legislative Branch Subcommittee Chairman Tim Ryan, an Ohio Democrat, said of calls in Congress and across the nation for policing overhauls.

Funding for the department would remain unchanged at $464 million, significantly lower than the $520.2 million proposed in President Donald Trump’s budget for fiscal 2021.

Under the fiscal 2021 spending measure, immigrants enrolled in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, program would be allowed to work in Congress.

“Dreamers are Americans and should be able to serve their country in this body,” Ryan said of the provision.

The proposal for House and joint operations with the Senate is $207 million more than enacted for the current fiscal year, according to the summary from the House Appropriations Committee. The bill does not include Senate-only spending, which is under the purview of Hyde-Smith’s panel.

Budgets for individual member offices, called the Members Representational Allowance, would get a $25 million boost over the current fiscal year to $640 million. This money goes to staffer salaries, office supplies and other such expenses. House committees would get a $3 million increase to $162.8 million.

The bill would not include a pay increase for lawmakers, which Ryan lamented as he noted the rising cost of living in the District of Columbia and how some members have resorted to sleeping in their offices. Congressional pay has been frozen since 2009.

A full committee markup is set for Friday.


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