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GOP Senators Propose Scrapping Columbus Day, Adding Juneteenth Federal Holiday

The head of a statue of Christopher Columbus was pulled off overnight amid protests against racial inequality in the aftermath of the death of George Floyd in Boston, Mass., June 10, 2020. (Brian Snyder/Reuters)

Republican senators Ron Johnson (R., Wis.) and James Lankford (R., Okla.) introduced an amendment Wednesday that would replace Columbus Day with Juneteenth as a federal holiday.

The proposal, which follows last week’s introduction of a bipartisan Senate bill by Senator John Cornyn (R., Texas) that would establish Juneteenth as a federal holiday, is aimed in large part at offsetting the cost associated with Cornyn’s plan. Each new federal holiday costs an estimated $600 million in paid time off for government employees, according to a Fox News report

“Throughout our history, we have strived to become a more perfect union and Juneteenth was a huge step in attaining that goal,” Lankford said in a statement. “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.”

“We support celebrating emancipation with a federal holiday, but believe we should eliminate a current holiday in exchange,” Johnson said in a statement. “We chose Columbus Day as a holiday that is lightly celebrated, and least disruptive to Americans’ schedules.”

Juneteenth, held on June 19 to commemorate the day in 1865 when slavery definitively ended in the U.S., is currently celebrated as a holiday in 47 states. The holiday has gained increased attention amid the nationwide protests that followed George Floyd’s death in police custody.

Protestors have torn down and vandalized statues of Christopher Columbus, an Italian Renaissance-era explorer often credited with being the first European to discover the Americas. A growing number of critics have called for Columbus Day to be eliminated or renamed Indigenous Peoples’ Day, upset at the celebration of what they see as Columbus’s subjugation and mistreatment of the New World’s native population.

Cornyn told The Hill that eliminating Columbus Day in favor of Juneteenth is “problematic” and “dilutes the message we’re trying to send, which is one of being respectful and honoring and remembering our history.”

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