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House passes bill to make Juneteenth a federal holiday

The Senate unanimously voted for the measure Tuesday. The bill now heads to President Joe Biden's desk, and Democrats hope he signs it into law by June 19.
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The House voted overwhelmingly Wednesday to make Juneteenth a national federal holiday, 415-14, and President Joe Biden is scheduled to sign the bill into law Thursday afternoon.

The June 19 holiday commemorating the end of slavery in the U.S. is already celebrated as a state or ceremonial holiday in 47 states and the District of Columbia. When Biden signs the bill, June 19 will become the country's 11th federal holiday.

Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris are set to deliver remarks at the signing, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and members of the Congressional Black Caucus will also gather for photos during the bill's enrollment Thursday morning.

The House bill's sponsor, Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas, said Wednesday that it's "been a long journey," but "we're here."

"Juneteenth equals freedom and freedom is what America is about!" she tweeted. Jackson Lee said she and Democratic leaders plan to send the legislation to Biden's desk by this Juneteenth.

Before the vote, Pelosi said it was "an exciting, historic day," one that was overdue.

The bill had strong bipartisan backing in both the House and the Senate, but one of the "no" votes, Rep. Matt Rosendale, R-Mont., said he would call "an ace an ace."

"This is an effort by the Left to create a day out of whole cloth to celebrate identity politics as part of its larger efforts to make Critical Race Theory the reigning ideology of our country," he said in a statement.

Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, a co-sponsor of the legislation, quote-tweeted Rosendale's statement, calling it "kooky."

All 14 of the no votes were Republicans: Rosendale, Andrew Clyde of Georgia, Paul Gosar and Andy Biggs of Arizona, Mo Brooks and Mike Rogers of Alabama, Thomas Massie of Kentucky, Ralph Norman of South Carolina, Tom McClintock and Doug LaMalfa of California, Tom Tiffany of Wisconsin, Scott DesJarlais of Tennessee and Ronny Jackson and Chip Roy of Texas.

The Juneteenth holiday — officially called Juneteenth Independence Day in the bill — has also been known as Emancipation Day and Black Independence Day.

The holiday honors the end of slavery by commemorating the date in 1865 when Union Army Gen. Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston, Texas, and announced to enslaved African Americans that the Civil War had ended and they were free. Granger's proclamation came more than two years after President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation.

The anniversary was celebrated by African Americans in Texas the following year, and it soon began being celebrated in other states, as well. It became an official state holiday in Texas in 1980.

"Juneteenth honors the end of the years of suffering and brutality that African Americans endured under slavery, America's original sin, and celebrates the legacy of perseverance that has become the hallmark of the African American experience in the struggle for equality," Jackson Lee said.

The Senate passed the measure by unanimous consent Tuesday night. Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., had blocked an earlier attempt to pass the bill, citing the potential cost to taxpayers, but he said earlier Wednesday that "I recognize reality."

"I support celebrating the emancipation of the slaves. I just didn't really understand why the only way to do that is to give 2 million federal health care workers, that would cost $600 million a year, a day off. But apparently the rest of Congress wants to do that, so I won't stand in the way," Johnson said.