/Republican senators Johnson, Lankford propose making Juneteenth a federal holiday and dropping Columbus Day

Republican senators Johnson, Lankford propose making Juneteenth a federal holiday and dropping Columbus Day

In response to bipartisan efforts to make Juneteenth a federal holiday, Republican Sens. Ron Johnson and James Lankford have proposed eliminating a different federal holiday “in exchange.” 

The choice?

Columbus Day.

“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,” Johnson, of Wisconsin, said in a statement Wednesday.

Johnson and Lankford of Oklahoma will be seeking to amend a bill making Juneteenth a federal holiday.

Johnson said adding to the number of federal holidays would give federal workers an additional day of paid leave and increase the government’s costs. He called his amendment a “counter-proposal that does not put us further in debt.” 

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People march during a Juneteenth event Friday, June 19, 2020, in Milwaukee. Juneteenth marks the day in 1865 when federal troops arrived in Galveston, Texas, to take control of the state and ensure all enslaved people be freed, more than two years after the Emancipation Proclamation.  (AP Photo/Morry Gash) ORG XMIT: WIMG115

Juneteenth, celebrated on June 19, commemorates the end of slavery. The Emancipation Proclamation had outlawed slavery more than two years earlier, but enforcement largely was a function of where Union troops had advanced. On June 19, 1865, federal orders finally reached — and were proclaimed — in Texas.

Efforts to make it a federal holiday have intensified amid the protests against racial inequality in the aftermath of the killing of George Floyd by police in Minneapolis.

Columbus Day honors Christopher Columbus and has been recognized as a federal holiday since 1934. Originally, it fell on Oct. 12, but President Lyndon Johnson in 1968 moved it to the second Monday in October. 

For many Italian-American groups and communities, it’s a day set aside to celebrate their heritage. But it has been a source of growing controversy in recent years because of the killing and enslavement of indigenous people in the Americas by European explorers and settlers.

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Last year, Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers by executive order designated Indigenous Peoples Day to run on the same day as the federal holiday. Earlier this year, Chicago Public Schools stopped recognizing Columbus Day entirely, instead giving students off the same day and calling it Indigenous Peoples Day, drawing objections from Italian American groups.

A spokesman for Johnson said the senator was not denigrating Christopher Columbus or making a value judgment about his legacy, only seeking to avoid increasing the number of federal holidays for cost reasons.