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Confederate Statues at Capitol Get Marching Orders

The House passed a bill Tuesday to remove Confederate statues from the Capitol complex.

A dozen statues and a bust from Statuary Hall are on the nix list. 

A statue of Jefferson Davis of Mississippi is displayed June 11 in Statuary Hall on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh, File)

WASHINGTON (CN) — The House passed a bill Tuesday to remove Confederate statues from the Capitol complex with a 285-120 vote.  

"As I’ve said before, the halls of Congress are the very heart of democracy,” Speaker Nancy Pelosi said during a debate on the House floor. “Monuments to men or people who advocated cruelty or barbarism to achieve such a plainly racist end are a grotesque affront to those ideals. They’re an homage to hate, not heritage, and they must be removed.” 

The bill, which was introduced last Congress, would target 12 Confederate statues in the Capitol’s Statuary Hall, including those memorializing Confederate President Jefferson Davis and Vice President John C. Calhoun. 

It would also replace a bust of former Supreme Court Chief Justice Roger Brooke Taney, who wrote the Dred Scott v. Sandford decision in 1857 that denied Black Americans full citizenship rights. Taney’s bust would be replaced with that of Justice Thurgood Marshall, the first Black person to serve on the Supreme Court. 

The House succeeded in passing the bill nearly one year ago with a 305-113 vote. That effort brought 73 Republicans in favor of the change, but the bill stalled in the GOP-controlled Senate. 

When the bill was reintroduced last month, House Majority Whip James Clyburn linked the effort to the attack on the Capitol complex in January. “On January 6th, we experienced the divisiveness of Confederate battle flags being flown inside the U.S. Capitol,” he said in a statement. “Yet there are still vestiges that remain in this sacred building that glorify people and a movement that embraced that flag and sought to divide and destroy our great country.

“This legislation will remove these commemorations from places of honor,” he continued, “and demonstrate that as Americans we do not celebrate those who seek to divide us.” 

On the House floor, several representatives expressed their support for — and skepticism — of the bill. 

House Representative Kevin McCarthy supported the legislation, but not without calling out Democrats for what he perceived as hypocrisy. “What’s interesting is the statues that need to be removed were sent to the Capitol by states that were majority-controlled by Democrats,” he said, “sent to a House that had a majority controlled by the Democrats.

“I think the bill should go further,” McCarthy continued. “Maybe it’s time for the Democrats to change the name of their party.” 

He then called out President Joe Biden and Speaker Pelosi for eulogizing West Virginia U.S. Representative Robert Byrd, who was a member of the Ku Klux Klan in his youth, before railing against “critical race theory.” 

California Representative Karen Bass, meanwhile, denounced the statues from a more personal perspective. “My ancestors built this building,” the Democrat said. “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.

“And imagine how I feel, and other African Americans and people of color feel walking through Statuary Hall,” she continued, “and knowing that there are monuments to people who supported, embraced, and fought for the break-up of our country.” 

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