GOP senators propose swapping Columbus Day with Juneteenth as federal holiday

Unlike other measures, the new proposal would keep carefully the number of federal holidays exactly the same by eliminating October’s Columbus Day.

A bipartisan band of lawmakers in both the House and Senate have backed legislation to produce Juneteenth as a federal holiday, both of which have already been co-sponsored by members of the Congressional Black Caucus. House legislation by Democratic Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee of Texas enjoys an extended list of bipartisan co-sponsors.

In a statement released Wednesday, Lankford and Johnson praise the aims of the Juneteenth legislation — but emphasize the cost of creating another paid federal holiday without eliminating one.

“In reaction to a bipartisan effort to offer federal workers another day of paid leave by designating Juneteenth a federal holiday, we have offered a counterproposal that doesn’t put us further with debt,” said Johnson. “We support celebrating emancipation with a federal holiday, but believe we should eliminate a current holiday in exchange.”

Democratic lawmakers have long needed the recognition of Juneteenth as a federal holiday. In spite of a push by activists and lawmakers over time, the plan never made it through both chambers.

The day commemorates June 19, 1865, when Union Army Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger rode in to Galveston, Texas, and told slaves of the emancipation. Forty-seven states and the District of Columbia mark June 19 as a state holiday or observance. Communities around the world celebrate it with food and celebrations.

Columbus Day — a holiday ditched by several states and lots of municipalities and only Indigenous Peoples’ Day — was plumped for by the pair to remove “as a holiday that is lightly celebrated, and least disruptive to Americans’ schedules,” Johnson said.

The observance of Columbus Day and the approbation of Christopher Columbus attended under fire as racial reckoning occurs across the country following death of George Floyd.

Columbus has long been a contentious figure in history for his treatment of the Indigenous communities he undergone and for his role in violent colonization at their expense. In modern times, many cities and states — such as Minnesota, Alaska, Vermont and Oregon — have replaced Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples’ Day, in recognition of the pain and terror caused by Columbus and other European explorers.

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