But Carlson, along with other congressional Republicans and conservatives Wednesday, decried the senators’ push to strip Columbus Day of its status, accusing the pair of succumbing to the current moment in history instead of sticking up for a federal holiday that dates to the 1930s — even as more places have opted out of honoring the explorer.
“They want to delete it from the national calendar,” Carlson said. He added later, “They’re hoping to quietly eliminate Columbus Day and then move on to the next item on the rioters’ list of demands."
In a joint statement announcing the amendment, Johnson explained the measure is not due to Columbus’s oppression of indigenous people but rather the cost of adding another federal holiday on the calendar. They pointed to an NPR report estimating the cost of a federal holiday was more than $600 million for paid time off for federal employees. The senator from Wisconsin described the amendment to cut out Columbus Day as a way to “not put us further in debt.”
“We support celebrating emancipation with a federal holiday but believe we should eliminate a current holiday in exchange,” Johnson said in a statement. “We chose Columbus Day as a holiday that is lightly celebrated, and least disruptive to Americans’ schedules.”
Lankford, who touted Juneteenth as “a huge step” in becoming a more perfect union, echoed his co-sponsor, saying leaders should remain “cognizant of the impact the existing 10 federal holidays have on federal services and local businesses.”
“We can reduce these impacts by replacing Columbus Day as a federal holiday with Juneteenth, America’s second independence day,” the senator from Oklahoma said.
The proposal was met with much skepticism from Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.), co-sponsor of the Senate’s Juneteenth bill. In an interview with the Hill, Cornyn said cutting out Columbus Day for Juneteenth “dilutes the message we’re trying to send, which is one of being respectful and honoring and remembering our history.”
“I think that’s problematic,” the senator from Texas said of the amendment. “We’re working through all those things right now. We just don’t have an answer right this second.”
The push against Columbus Day has been unfolding for years. In 2019, more than 100 cities and the District had renamed the October federal holiday to Indigenous Peoples’ Day to honor and reclaim rich Native history. Just 21 states honor Columbus Day as a paid holiday.
Johnson and Lankford noted the amendment follows a similar decision against Columbus Day in Franklin County, Ohio, last month. The county, which includes Columbus, Ohio, announced it was dropping the holiday in favor of Juneteenth for all of its roughly 1,400 county employees starting in 2021, according to the Columbus Dispatch.
Conservatives on social media offered up a mix of criticism and bewilderment over Johnson and Lankford’s proposed swap.
“I look forward to donating to any Republican who primaries Ron Johnson or James Lankford,” tweeted conservative podcast host Michael Knowles. “Do whatever you want with Juneteenth, but not at the expense of Columbus Day!”
On Fox News, Carlson suggested to his prime-time audience that the “suddenly woke” Republican senators would explore “other acts of revolution and cultural desecration” if the Columbus Day amendment were to pass.
“It all depends that you let them know that you noticed they’re trying to cancel Columbus Day,” he said. “If you don’t say anything about it, there’s no telling what Johnson and Lankford might do next.”
A spokesperson for Lankford did not immediately return a request for comment. On early Thursday, a spokesperson for Johnson told The Washington Post the sole motivation for the amendment was to avoid “incurring the additional cost.”
Johnson took to Twitter late Wednesday to respond to the criticism, emphasizing his amendment to drop Columbus Day should not be compared to that of the toppled statues.
“It is not deprecating Christopher Columbus’ achievements or expressing any value judgment regarding his place in history,” Johnson tweeted. “I do not support efforts to erase America’s rich history — not the good, the bad, or the ugly.”