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Two GOP Senators Propose Recognizing Juneteenth As Federal Holiday, Swapping Out Columbus Day
WASHINGTON, DC - SEPTEMBER 27: Committee chairman Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) speaks during a hearing before the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee September 27, 2016 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. The committee held a hearing on "Fifteen Years After 9/11: Threats to the Homeland."
Alex Wong / Staff via Getty Images

Senators Ron Johnson (R-WI), chairman of the Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee, and James Lankford (R-OK) have moved to swap Columbus Day, one of ten federal holidays, for Juneteenth as part of a compromise in the ongoing legislation to federally recognize the holiday.

“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 into debt,” said Johnson in a press release.

“We support celebrating emancipation with a federal holiday, but believe we should eliminate a current holiday in exchange,” said Johnson, whose office has reportedly placed the economic cost of paying federal employees for an additional holiday at $600 million per year.

The amendment was filed after Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) moved to recognize Juneteenth, which commemorates the end of slavery in Texas nearly two years after President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, as a federal holiday earlier this month. Democratic senators have also put forth a similar proposal.

According to The Hill, Cornyn has pushed back against the proposal to scrap Columbus Day as a federal holiday, saying that it “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,” said Cornyn, in reference to Johnson’s holiday swap idea. Cornyn added: “We’re working through all those things right now, we just don’t have an answer right this second.”

Prior to Cornyn’s pushback, Lankford argued in a statement that the original Juneteenth represented a large step toward achieving a more perfect Union, a step that ought to be commemorated with a federal holiday.

“We should celebrate these strides on the federal level while remaining cognizant of the impact the existing ten federal holidays have on federal services and local businesses,” said Lankford. “We can reduce these impacts by replacing Columbus Day as a federal holiday with Juneteenth, America’s second Independence day.”

Johnson shared similar sentiments about the choice of which holiday to replace, remarking in the press release that Columbus Day is “lightly celebrated” and the “least disruptive” option for the schedules of Americans, reports The Oklahoman.

While the first recorded celebration of Columbus Day occurred in 1792, to commemorate the 300th anniversary of the explorer’s 1492 landing, Columbus Day was first recognized federally when President Benjamin Harrison announced a one-time recognition in 1892, according to Politico.

According to The New York Times, Harrison’s decision to recognize Columbus Day was made “in the wake of a bloody New Orleans lynching that took the lives of 11 Italian immigrants.” The federal recognition, the Times argued in 2019, “was part of a broader attempt to quiet outrage among Italian-Americans, and a diplomatic blowup over the murders that brought Italy and the United States to the brink of war.”

Columbus Day was made an official federal holiday in the 1930s.

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