Two Democratic lawmakers are taking the movement to remove Confederate memorials to Capitol Hill.
Sen. Cory Booker (N.J.) and Rep. Barbara Lee (Calif.) introduced Senate and House versions of the Confederate Monument Removal Act, which would mandate the removal of all statues of those who voluntarily served the Confederate States of America from the National Statuary Hall Collection within 120 days.
There are currently 12 Confederate leaders, including Gen. Robert E. Lee and President Jefferson Davis, in the National Statuary Hall Collection.
“The National Statuary Hall Collection is intended to honor American patriots who served, sacrificed or made tremendous contributions to our nation,” Booker said. “Those who committed treason against the United States of America and led our nation into its most painful and bloody war are not patriots and should not be afforded such a rare honor in this sacred space."
Activists around the country have been protesting Confederate memorials and taking and pushing measures to call for their removal. Last month in Charlottesville, a white supremacist plowed his car into a crowd, killing one counterprotester at a rally organized by those wanting to preserve the statues.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and other Democrats called for the immediate removal of the statues in the Capitol after the Charlottesville attack. This is the first bicameral legislation aimed at doing so, according to a spokesman for Lee.
Lee called the memorials “hateful symbols” unfit for the U.S. Capitol.
“In the wake of Charlottesville, it’s abundantly clear that much work remains to root out racism from our society, " Lee said. “Across the country, Confederate statues and monuments pay tribute to white supremacy and slavery in public spaces. These hateful symbols should have no place in our society and they certainly should not be enshrined in the U.S. Capitol.”
The National Statuary Hall Collection was established in 1864 to celebrate “illustrious” individuals who served or sacrificed for the United States, which the lawmakers argue excludes Confederate soldiers, because they took up arms against the United States. The bill would allow states to claim the Confederate statues that are removed if they so choose. And those that states do not claim would be sent to the Smithsonian.
The bill is the latest attempt from lawmakers on both sides of the aisle calling on lawmakers to be more aggressive in the fight against white supremacy.
Four senators, two from each side of the aisle, requested Tuesday that the Trump administration “use all available resources to improve data collection on hate crimes and to work in a coordinated way to address the growing prevalence of hate groups.”
After Charlottesville, President Trump argued that removing statues was an attempt to change history and culture.
“George Washington was a slave owner. Was George Washington a slave owner? So will George Washington now lose his status? Are we going to take down — excuse me — are we going to take down — are we going to take down statues to George Washington? What about Thomas Jefferson?” Trump asked at a news conference the Tuesday after Charlottesville. “You know what? It's fine. You're changing history, you're changing culture.”
Americans overwhelmingly — 56 percent — disapproved of Trump’s response to the deadly protests, according to a Washington Post-ABC News poll.
However, most Americans disagree with Booker and Lee about what the statues represent. An Economist and YouGov survey found that, by more than 2 to 1, Americans believe that Confederate monuments are symbols of Southern pride rather than of white supremacy.
This is not the first time lawmakers attempted to remove the statues. Most recently, lawmakers spoke out about the influence of Confederate symbols in celebrating white supremacy after a white supremacist killed nine black people at a prayer meeting in a Charleston, S.C., church in 2015.
“I think it is something we should consider,” then-Senate Minority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) told the New York Times at the time. “I think it is something that should be done in a deliberate fashion.”
The week after the Charleston shooting, Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) brought a measure to the floor calling for the removal of state flags featuring the “Southern Cross” of the Confederacy from areas displaying flags in the Capitol. That measure was referred to the committee that sets House rules and was defeated in a vote almost completely along party lines.
This bill may have a hard time getting support from enough lawmakers to pass also. Republicans control the House and the Senate, and 84 percent of Republicans in that Economist/YouGov survey said that Confederate monuments represent pride rather than supremacy.