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

Chris Marquette, CQ-Roll Call on

Published in Political News

WASHINGTON -- 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.

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