WASHINGTON (AP) — House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Thursday that it’s time to remove symbols honoring Confederate figures from the U.S. Capitol building and military bases as the pandemic and racial unrest force a national reckoning with racial discrimination.
“These names have to go from these bases and these statues have to go from the Capitol,“ Pelosi said at her weekly news conference. “The American people know these names have to go.”
Confederate monuments have reemerged as a national flashpoint since the death of George Floyd, a black man who died after a white Minneapolis officer pressed his knee into his neck for several minutes. Protesters decrying racism have targeted Confederate monuments in multiple cities, and some state officials are considering taking them down.
President Donald Trump doubled down Thursday on his vow to not rename military bases honoring Confederate generals, even as NASCAR announced it would ban displays of the Confederate flag at its races.
“Seriously failed presidential candidate, Senator Elizabeth ‘Pocahontas’ Warren, just introduced an Amendment on the renaming of many of our legendary Military Bases from which we trained to WIN two World Wars. Hopefully our great Republican Senators won’t fall for this!” Trump said in a Twitter blast.
But Republicans in the Senate, who are at risk of losing their majority in the November elections, aren’t with Trump on this issue. A GOP-led Senate panel on Thursday approved a plan by Sen. Elizabeth Warren to have the names of Confederate figures removed from military bases and other Pentagon assets.
The ban would be imposed within three years and was approved by a voice vote as a piece of the annual Pentagon policy bill. A commission would be set up to oversee the process. The provision is likely to be matched when the Democratic-controlled House takes up the measure in coming weeks.
Confederate symbols remain both in the military and on Capitol Hill are coming coming under attack as public opinion has dramatically shifted since Floyd’s killing.
“The statues in the Capitol should embody our highest ideals as Americans, expressing who we are and who we aspire to be as a nation,” Pelosi wrote earlier. “Monuments to men who advocated cruelty and barbarism to achieve such a plainly racist end are a grotesque affront to these ideals.”
At her press conference, she said of Trump: “He seems to be the only person left who doesn’t get it.”
The presence of statues of generals and other figures of the Confederacy in Capitol locations such as Statuary Hall — the original House chamber — has been denounced by African American lawmakers for many years. Former Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., D-Ill., was known to give tours pointing out the numerous statues.
But it’s up to the states to determine which of their historical figures to display. Jefferson Davis, a former U.S. senator from Mississippi who was president of the Confederate States of America, is represented by one of two statues from that state. Pelosi noted that Davis and Confederate Vice President Alexander Stephens, whose statue comes from Georgia, “were charged with treason against the United States.”
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said the appropriate way to handle the statues controversy would be to continue the trend of states replacing them on their own.
“They can trade them out at any time … a number of states are trading them out now,“ McConnell told reporters. “I think that’s the appropriate way to deal with the statue issue. The states make that decision.”
Senators on the Armed Services Committee approved the amendment on renaming the bases on a bipartisan voice vote, but it was not with robust debate — and some dissent. Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla., said he supported the move while Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska, said he “did not oppose” it.
Only one, Republican Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri, voted against it in committee, according to two people unauthorized to discuss the private debate.
“I voted no on it, and I spoke against it in the committee and voiced my reservations,” Hawley told reporters Thursday.
“I just don’t think that Congress mandating that these be renamed and attempting to erase that part of our history is a way that you deal with that history.” he said. “I don’t think turning your back on it’s how you deal with it, confront it, and then move on.”
Chairman James Inhofe, R-Okla., wanted assurances local communities would have input, aides said. There was also a push to ensure some flexibility, for example, for commanders who served both sides. Exceptions are also made for gravemarkers, all but ensuring no disruptions at Arlington National Cemetery, the aides said.
The new commission will be made up of eight members, four from the Defense Department and four from both parties in the Senate.
Associated Press Writers Lisa Mascaro and Laurie Kellman contributed to this report.