Two Republican senators want to tweak the movement to add Juneteenth to the list of federal holidays, and — in the spirit of deal-making Washington — have proposed a swap.
Republican Sens. James Lankford of Oklahoma and Ron Johnson of Wisconsin are proposing that Columbus Day fade away as a federal holiday in order to make Juneteenth a day off for all federal workers.
The Senate currently has before it a bill that would designate Juneteenth to the calendar of federal holidays. The legislation put forward Wednesday by Lankford and Johnson is filed as an amendment to that proposal.
“Juneteenth is a day in our history that redefined the meaning of freedom and equality in America,” Lankford said in a news release. “Throughout our history, we have strived to become a more perfect union and Juneteenth was a huge step in attaining that goal.”
He said that adding holidays might not be the answer, though.
“We should celebrate these strides on the federal level while remaining cognizant of the impact the existing 10 federal holidays have on federal services and local businesses,” Lankford said. “We can reduce these impacts by replacing Columbus Day as a federal holiday with Juneteenth, America’s second independence day. I’m hopeful the Senate will support this amendment to celebrate this significant day in our nation’s history.”
Johnson said that since Columbus Day is no longer a major American celebration, the time has come to make a change.
“In response to a bipartisan effort to give federal workers another day of paid leave by designating Juneteenth a federal holiday, we have offered a counterproposal that does not put us further in debt,” he said.
“We support celebrating emancipation with a federal holiday, but believe we should eliminate a current holiday in exchange. We chose Columbus Day as a holiday that is lightly celebrated, and least disruptive to Americans’ schedules.”
The release noted that 21 of the 50 states recognize Columbus Day as a paid holiday, and pointed out that the cost of a federal holiday could range between $524 million and $600 million.
Johnson said he’s “happy to celebrate the emancipation with a national holiday but I just don’t think we should be, when we’re already blowing a hole in the budget right now, offering another paid day off for federal employees,” according to The Hill.
The concept is already taking place in at least one part of the country.
Franklin County, Ohio, recently approved replacing Columbus Day as a county holiday with Juneteenth, according to The Columbus Dispatch.
“It’s the fair and right thing to do,” county commissioner Kevin Boyce said.
“This is probably one of the most demonstrative actions that we’ve taken, to remove one holiday that history didn’t quite tell the full story [about] … and replace it with another in the same way that is much more inclusive and very important in the time we’re in.”
Republican Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, who supports the Senate bill adding Juneteenth as a federal holiday, said the swap “dilutes the message we’re trying to send, which is one of being respectful and honoring and remembering our history.”
He called passage of the amendment “problematic,” according to The Hill.
Juneteenth is celebrated on June 19 to commemorate the day in 1865 when news of the Emancipation Proclamation reached Texas.
In the aftermath of protests after the death of George Floyd, states and communities that have not celebrated Juneteenth in the past have rushed to do so.
Although celebrations honoring Columbus have taken place in the U.S. for more than 150 years, the federal holiday for the explorer was not established until 1937.
The Oct. 12 holiday is often marked as a celebration of Italian-American heritage, but in recent years has become controversial, with protests taking place annually seeking to declare it Indigenous Peoples’ Day instead.
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