The House passed legislation on Tuesday that will effectively remove statues and artwork from the Capitol that portray people who have legacies of defending slavery and serving the Confederacy.
It was a bipartisan vote, 285-120, with all Democrats voting for it and the Republicans split. A minority of 67 Republicans joined with the Democrats in support, while 120 voted against it.
“We ought not to forget history. We must learn from history. But we ought not to honor that which defiled the principles for which we think we stand,” said House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), the bill’s primary author. “It’s time to remove those symbols of slavery, segregation, and sedition from these halls.”
The new bill will order the removal of more than a half dozen Confederate statues currently standing in the Capitol as part of the National Statuary Hall Collection. Under rules today for the collection, a statue can be removed only if the state government that contributed it gives permission.
Those statues include figures of Jefferson Davis, the president of the Confederacy; Alexander Hamilton Stephens, the Confederacy’s vice president; and Wade Hampton, a South Carolina planter who served as a Confederate military officer and later became a governor and a senator.
This legislation will also replace a bust of former Supreme Court Chief Justice Roger Taney, the author of the 1857 Dred Scott ruling that Black people lacked the rights of citizens. In Taney’s place, there will be a new statue of Thurgood Marshall, the first African American justice to serve on the high court.
There are more statues representing people with histories of defending white supremacy that are focused on in the legislation. They include Charles Aycock, who served as North Carolina governor; John C. Calhoun, the former vice president and member of Congress from South Carolina; and James Paul Clarke, a former senator and governor of Arkansas.
A statue of Robert E. Lee, the Confederate army commander, was removed from the Capitol late in 2020 at the request of Virginia state leaders. It will be replaced with a statue of Barbara Johns, a civil rights activist who led a student walkout to protest school segregation.
Republican leaders argued that the legislation unnecessarily undermined states’ authority, especially when some Southern states are already moving to replace the statues.
“This bill naming statues that are in the process of being replaced is nothing more than what I believe is an attempt by Democrats to prematurely thwart the authority of states in order to claim the moral high ground for themselves,” said Rep. Bruce Westerman (R-Ark.).
Republicans who were against the bill challenged that removing the Confederate statues could lead to a slippery slope.
“Unfortunately, Democrats, animated by the Critical Race Theory concepts of structural racism, microaggressions, and a United States based solely on white supremacy, have chosen to remove statues that underscore the failures of our pre-1861 Constitution. Make no mistake, those who won the West and George Washington are next,” said Rep. Matt Rosendale (R-Mont.).
Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) called the legislation a “power grab.”
“All the tyrants throughout history tear down statues and attempt to erase history in order to reign with an iron fist,” Greene tweeted.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., used his debate time Wednesday to condemn critical race theory. McCarthy said he supports the removal of Confederate statues and repeatedly noted that the racist lawmakers and leaders they depict were then members of the Democratic Party.
Other Republican lawmakers noted their support for the removal of statues but also their frustration over the legislative process.
“My opposition to this bill isn’t because of the goal that we’re trying to achieve, but it’s the way that the majority continues to skirt procedure in this body,” said Rep. Barry Loudermilk, R-Ga. “For the second consecutive Congress, this bill was rushed to the floor without a hearing or a markup in the Committee on House Administration.”