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Republican senators propose replacing Columbus Day with Juneteenth for fiscal reasons

Senator Ron Johnson of Wisconsin speaking at CPAC 2011 in Washington, D.C. (Gage Skidmore/Flickr)

It’s all about the Benjamins.

A couple of Republican senators rolled out a proposal Wednesday to cancel Columbus Day and replace it with Juneteenth, saying they don’t want to just list both dates as federal holidays because that would “put us further in debt.”

Sens. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin and James Lankford of Oklahoma made the fiscally hawkish suggestion in an amendment to a bipartisan bill that would make Juneteenth a federal holiday commemorating the end of slavery without tinkering with Columbus Day.

“We have offered a counterproposal that does not put us further in debt,” Johnson said in a statement. “We support celebrating emancipation with a federal holiday, but believe we should eliminate a current holiday in exchange.”

Johnson made clear he does not want to get rid of Columbus Day over concerns that the holiday honors a man who enslaved and brutalized Native Americans.

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Rather, Johnson said he and Lankford picked Columbus Day because it’s “lightly celebrated” and its cancellation would be “least disruptive to Americans’ schedules.”

Lankford added in a statement of his own: “Juneteenth is a day in our history that redefined the meaning of freedom and equality in America … We should celebrate these strides on the federal level while remaining cognizant of the impact the existing 10 federal holidays have on federal services and local businesses.”

Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), who introduced the original bill to make Juneteenth a federal holiday, voiced skepticism about the Johnson-Lankford amendment, telling The Hill that it would “dilute the message we’re trying to send.”

“I think that’s problematic,” he told the outlet.

Cornyn, who’s facing a potentially difficult reelection campaign in November, has courted support for his bill among plenty of Democrats, including Sens. Cory Booker of New Jersey and Kamala Harris of California, as Congress continues to grapple with the country’s history of racism in the wake of George Floyd’s death.

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