Some House GOP Expected to Vote for Bill to Remove Confederate Statues from Capitol

A number of House Republicans are expected to vote for a bill on Tuesday that would remove the bust of Roger Taney, the U.S. chief justice known for making an infamous pro-slavery ruling, as well as Confederate statues from the Capitol.

A similar bill was proposed but not passed last year. Those backing the measure hope that with Democrats in control of the Senate and a Democratic president, the bill will be passed, along with support from Republicans in the House.

Nine environmental groups, including the Sierra Club and League of Conservation Voters, wrote a letter urging lawmakers to pass the bill so as to create a welcoming environment for people of all races.

"We cannot achieve true equity and a sense of welcome in public spaces if we continue to honor individuals who rose to prominence upholding slavery and other examples of systemic racism," part of the letter reads.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below:

Jefferson Davis
A statue of Jefferson Davis, president of the Confederate States, by artist Augustus Lukeman is seen in Statuary Hall of the US Capitol in Washington, D.C. on June 11. A number of House Republicans are expected to vote for a bill on Tuesday that would remove the statue of Jefferson Davis and other Confederates from the Capitol. Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images

The vote comes against the backdrop of larger reckoning in the U.S. with racism, one that's prompted a reassessment of statues and other symbols that valorize those who upheld white supremacy. Protesters decrying racism last year targeted Confederate monuments in multiple cities, leading to many being taken down. But many others remain in places of honor, including at the U.S. Capitol.

The Taney bust would be replaced with one of Thurgood Marshall, the first Black justice to serve on the nation's highest court. The 2-foot-high marble bust of Taney is outside a room in the Capitol where the Supreme Court met from 1810 to 1860. It was in that room that Taney, the nation's fifth chief justice, announced the Dred Scott decision, sometimes called the worst decision in the court's history.

The Supreme Court held that Scott, as a Black man, was not a citizen and therefore had no right to sue, and found that legislation restricting slavery in certain territories was unconstitutional.

Three other statues honoring white supremacists—including former U.S. Vice President John C. Calhoun of South Carolina—would also be immediately removed under the legislation. Longer-term, the architect of the Capitol would be instructed to identify any other statues depicting those who served in the Confederate States of America for removal from public display.

The statues would go back to the states that sent them. The statue of Davis, for example, would be returned to Mississippi and that of Alexander Hamilton Stephens would be returned to Georgia. Davis served as the Confederacy's president and Stephens was its vice president.

Each state gets to submit two statues for display in the Capitol. When the donated statue arrives, it is placed in a location selected by the Joint Committee on the Library, a group of 10 lawmakers from both chambers that oversees works of fine art in the building.

Republicans note some states are already working to replace some of about a dozen statues that would be potentially removed under the bill. North Carolina, for example, is replacing a statue of Charles Aycock, a former governor and white supremacist, with that of the Rev. Billy Graham. But the process is painfully slow.

"It's Congress's responsiveness to the state's request that actually delays the process," said Republican Rep. Rodney Davis of Illinois.

Some Democratic lawmakers offered to work with Republicans on speeding up the approval process, but they want to forge ahead in the meantime. Rep. Zoe Lofgren, the Democratic chair of the House Administration Committee, said the Confederate statues honor "traitors to their country." She denied that removing them would be erasing the nation's history.

"On the contrary, we must never forget our nation's shameful periods of slavery, segregation and racism," Lofgren said.

"Now, that history belongs in a museum. You know, we need to remember our history," she said. "It doesn't belong on a pedestal."

One statue already gone from the Capitol is that of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee, which was removed from the National Statuary Hall Collection last year at the request of Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam. A state commission decided that Lee was not a fitting symbol for the state.

Just two weeks ago Congress approved a bill establishing Juneteenth as a new federal holiday commemorating the end of slavery in the United States, an unexpected breakthrough for supporters of the legislation. Democrats see a similar chance to address longstanding frustrations about the statues in the Capitol and are putting Republican lawmakers on the spot by calling a vote.

Last year, Sen. Mitch McConnell, a Republican from Kentucky, said he supported continuing the practice of states replacing the statues on their own.

"They can trade them out at any time...a number of states are trading them out now," McConnell told reporters.

He also referred to the House legislation as "nonsense" that would "airbrush the Capitol."

However, Republicans joined Democrats in the final weeks of Donald Trump's presidency to override his veto of a defense policy bill that allows for the renaming of military bases that honor Confederate leaders. Trump repeatedly emphasized his opposition to changing the names of the military bases.

Roger Taney
In this March 9, 2020, file photo a marble bust of Chief Justice Roger Taney is displayed in the Old Supreme Court Chamber in the U.S. Capitol in Washington. Taney, who came from a wealthy, slave-owning family in Calvert County, Maryland, led the Supreme Court in the 1857 ruling against Dred Scott, an enslaved African American man, who had sued for his freedom. The House is expected to approve a bill Tuesday that would remove from the bust of Taney from the Capitol, as well as statues of Jefferson Davis and others who served in the Confederacy. J. Scott Applewhite, File/AP Photo