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Democrats target memorials to Confederate leaders in government spending bills

Given the GOP-controlled Senate and President Donald Trump’s opposition, Democrats face an uphill battle in passing the measures into law.
Image: Alexander Hamilton Stephens
A statue of Alexander Hamilton Stephens, vice president of the Confederate States from 1861 to 1865, is on display in Statuary Hall inside the U.S. Capitol.Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images file

WASHINGTON — With the national debate over memorials to Confederate leaders intensifying, Democrats are targeting statues, the names of military installation and other such commemorations in several federal spending bills and calling for their removal.

Democrats will most likely be able to pass the pieces of legislation in the House, but given the GOP-controlled Senate and President Donald Trump’s opposition, they face an uphill battle getting the measures passed into law.

On Monday, the House Appropriations subcommittee that oversees funding for military construction projects advanced a fiscal 2021 spending measure that would bar the government from upgrading any military installations named after a Confederate officer unless there’s already a process underway to replace the name.

The bill, which also funds the Department of Veterans Affairs, will now go to the full House Appropriations Committee for a markup.

On Monday, House Democrats released a legislative branch spending bill for the next fiscal year that includes a section directing the architect of the Capitol, within 45 days of enactment, to remove statues or busts in the Capitol that represent people who served in the Confederate army or government.

The measure also calls for the removal of statues at the Capitol “with ambiguous records of racial intolerance,” Democrats said in a summary of the bill. Those include statues of Charles Aycock, John C. Calhoun and James Paul Clarke and a bust of Roger B. Taney.

The bill would direct the architect of the Capitol to keep any statues removed from public view in storage until they can arrange for their return to the states that donated them.

In a bill released Monday that would fund the Department of Interior and environmental projects, Democrats inserted language that would ban the National Park Service from using the funds to purchase or display a Confederate flag except under circumstances where the flags provide historical context.

The bill would direct the National Park Service to remove from display any statues, memorials, plaques or sculptures that commemorate anyone or anything from the Confederacy. The interior secretary would have to provide an inventory to Congress of all assets within the department that bear Confederate names.

The Democrats' inclusion of these provisions sets up a battle in Congress over the issue ahead of the Sept. 30 deadline to fund the government for the 2021 fiscal year.

Although she didn’t specify the Confederate-related provisions, the top Republican on the House Appropriations Committee, Kay Granger, R-Texas, said in a statement Monday that these bills are “full of controversial language and questionable funding priorities,” signaling that GOP members will likely oppose the measures. She said they are “partisan bills that will never become law.”

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said last month that the names of Confederate leaders must be removed from American military bases and their statues taken out of the Capitol. She acknowledged that she didn’t have the unilateral authority to remove the statues herself and that legislation or committee action may be required. In June, Pelosi did, however, order the removal of portraits of four House speakers who served in the Confederacy that were on display at the Capitol.

Since the death of George Floyd in May kicked off a national conversation over police brutality and racial intolerance, protesters and officials around the country have been taking down Confederate statues and monuments.

Trump, however, has repeatedly made clear that he rejects these efforts. On Monday, for instance, he criticized NASCAR on Twitter for recently banning the Confederate flag and threatened last week to veto a national defense bill the Senate is considering if an amendment from Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., to rename military bases honoring Confederate military leaders is not removed.

White House chief of staff Mark Meadows said Monday night on Fox News that the president is "the only thing that stands between a mob and the American people. First it's the statues. Then it's the businesses. Then it's their homes.”