Speaking to the House of Representatives early Tuesday, Hoyer called the January 6 uprising “a turning point – seeing such evils permeate the halls of the American Capitol.” But Hoyer said African Americans who have worked in the Capitol for decades are all too familiar with the “feeling of pollution in this sacred space.”
“As you step into the solemn old chamber of the Supreme Court and stare into the cold, marbled Roger Brooke Taney, you are reminded that once the highest court in our country … declared that black lives don’t matter,” said Hoyer.
Legislation would also remove any other statues or busts of people who have voluntarily served in the Confederation from public display in the U.S. Capitol. It would remove former Vice President John C. Calhoun, North Carolina Governor Charles B. Aycock, and Arkansas Senator John P. Clarke, 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 for the bill while stressing that “all statues removed by this bill are statues of Democrats.” This prompted MP Karen Bass (D-Calif.) To wonder whether her Republican colleagues were aware of the “whole history of the civil rights movement” and the transformation of the two political parties.
The vote will take place while the House of Representatives grapples with extremism within its own ranks. This week, McCarthy is up against a far-right Republican who is said to have ties to white nationalists. Rep. Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.) Is reportedly set to participate in a fundraiser alongside Nick Fuentes, a white nationalist and organizer of the America First Political Action Conference. Gosar has denied the reports.
A similar bill by Hoyer was passed by the House of Representatives last summer with more than 300 votes – 72 by Republicans. The Republican-controlled Senate did not act on the law.
Hoyer reintroduced the legislation in May, saying, “It’s never too late to do the right thing.” While it has a greater chance of getting into the upper chamber this time around, it is likely to suffer a similar fate with the slim majority of Senate Democrats.
Lawmakers cheered the passage again on Tuesday, an effort rekindled last summer when protesters called for justice and action over the police murder of George Floyd – adding to discussions about the role of Confederate symbols in public spaces fueled.
“I was proud to vote for #RemoveHate from the Capitol together with my colleagues today.” Hoyer tweeted after the vote. “Today’s vote was a vote to uphold the principles of equality and justice on which our nation was founded. Hate, racism and bigotry have no place here. “
Placing Confederate statues in the Capitol has been a difficult problem for Democratic lawmakers. In 1864, Congress asked states to add two statues to the National Statuary Hall collection, and the Legislature has no power to replace them.
Many states have voluntarily replaced statues in question, such as Virginia’s move to recall a statue of Robert E. Lee and replace it with civil rights activist Barbara Johns. North Carolina has also announced plans to replace the statue of Aycock, a prominent leader of white supremacy in the state, with that of Rev. Billy Graham. If Hoyer’s bill passes the Senate, the Capitol architect would have authority to remove the statues from the public.
Speaking to the House of Representatives on Tuesday, Speaker Nancy Pelosi referred to another law – the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act – that has been hung in the Senate. She asked members how they could “end the scourge of racism” – noting that police reform legislation was a way forward – “if we allow the worst perpetrators of this racism to be praised in the halls of Congress” .
Sarah Ferris and Nicholas Wu contributed to this report.