Capitol Hill fighting with Confederate statues and tributes to racists

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The most impressive are the statues.

Across the Capitol complex are 12 noble figures honoring Confederate leaders Robert E. Lee and Jefferson Davis, among others. Many represent soldiers and generals in Confederate uniforms.

A belt buckle on the statue of Joseph Wheeler, a general in the Confederate Army, is marked with CSA for "Confederate States of America".

These statues are scattered all over Capitol Hill, many of them in the prestigious Statuary Hall on the side of the US Capitol Chamber, In the Crypt or in the Capitol Visitor Center, all the places where they usually pass thousands of tourist groups and members of Congress. diary.

But it's not just about the statues of Confederate figures.

Two rooms in the Senate are named in honor of former Sens. Strom Thurmond and Richard Byrd, both known segregationists.

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And there's a whole building named after former Senator Richard Russell, the Russell Senate Office Building, which houses office space for senators and their staff. Russell was a prominent Georgia senator who served for more than 40 years, whose legislative legacy is marked with white supremacy.

In the Old Senate chamber, now used for ceremonial purposes, there is a bust of Chief Justice Roger Brooke Taney, who wrote the majority opinion in the Dred Scott v. Case. Sanford, who stated that African Americans could not be citizens of the United States.

In a well-used hallway leading from the Capitol to Senate office buildings, the controversial Mississippi flag, which features the Confederate battle flag, still hangs, among other state flags. The Mississippi legislature voted over the weekend to remove the Confederate insignia from the state flag.

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Members of Congress have tried to tackle these questionable displays before, with most of their efforts focused on the statues.

Over the years, some of the statues have been rearranged and relegated to less prominent places on Capitol Hill.

During her first term as Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi had a statue of Lee moved from a place of honor in Statuary Hall to the Crypt of the Capitol, a place of lesser distinction. But the Crypt is still a busy area on Capitol Hill, and is a common stop on tours of the building. A statue of Civil Rights icon Rosa Parks was later placed in Statuary Hall instead.

"I could move things, I couldn't get them out. That requires something else." Pelosi said of the statues earlier this month.

It is up to the states to choose two statues they would like to display on Capitol Hill. Congress cannot control what the statues are about, only where they are located on Capitol Hill.

"Can you imagine it? Jefferson Davis, Alexander Stephens. Treason. They committed treason against the United States of America, and their statues are still here because their states put them there," Pelosi said earlier this month.

Several states had already been making plans to change their statues before this time of national judgment.

Florida is tearing down its statue of Confederate General Edmund Kirby Smith and replacing it with civil rights leader Mary McLeod Bethune, and Arkansas is withdrawing its two controversial statues, swapping them out for country singer Johnny Cash and civil rights leader Daisy Bates.

New impetus for Congress to change statute rules

For years, a group of Democratic lawmakers has advocated new legislation to remove Confederate statues. They have lobbied to act with renewed urgency in recent weeks.

"We cannot separate the Confederate statues from this story and the legacy of white supremacy in this country," said Senator Cory Booker, a New Jersey Democrat who introduced the Senate version of the legislation, earlier this month.

A Democrat aide in the House of Representatives told CNN that there may be a vote on the legislation, sponsored in the House by Representatives Barbara Lee and Bennie Thompson, sometime soon. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer told reporters that he supports the removal of the statues. He has also backed legislation to remove Taney's bust and replace him with Judge Thurgood Marshall, the first African American on the Supreme Court. That bill could also be voted on soon.

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"In Maryland we made the decision to remove a statue of Taney from the State House grounds, reflecting his shameful contribution to the evil slavery system and his defense, and we must do the same here," Hoyer said.

But so far, Republicans in the House and Senate have shown little appetite to move the issue forward, saying it should be up to the states to decide who they want to commemorate on Capitol Hill.

"The states make that decision," Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican from Kentucky, said earlier this month. "I think the proper way to deal with this problem is to stick with tradition."

The Republican leader in the House, Rep. Kevin McCarthy of California, echoed those sentiments. "When it comes to statues, states have the power to select who to present," he said.

Pelosi has asked the Joint Library Congressional Committee, the committee that oversees the Statuary Hall collection, as well as other works of art on Capitol Hill, to order the Capitol Architect to take immediate action to remove the statues.

"The statues on Capitol Hill should embody our highest ideals as Americans, expressing who we are and who we aspire to be as a nation," Pelosi wrote to the committee. "The monuments to men who advocated cruelty and barbarism to achieve such a clearly racist end are a grotesque affront to these ideals. Their statues pay homage to hatred, not inheritance. They must be removed."

The committee's vice chair, Democratic Rep. Lofgren, said she wants the committee to "quickly" approve the removal of the statues.

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Missouri Senator Roy Blunt, the committee's Republican chairman, has so far only shown an openness to a potential audience to consider the issue.

"I certainly would like to have some time to decide whether we should have an audience on this. I would like to see, to get input from people who are removing similar statues from the building. I would also like to see what other states have in mind as they're part of this deal, "Blunt said earlier this month, when he blocked Booker's legislation to remove the statues on the Senate floor.

House and Senate sources told CNN that the committee has been working at the staff level to discuss ways they could address the issue. But there is still no way forward, and Republicans are following the cues of McConnell, who has released his feelings.

"What I do think is clearly a bridge too far is this foolishness that we need to airbrush the Capitol and eliminate all those from years ago who had any connection to slavery," McConnell said earlier this month.

Beyond the statues

After Arizona Senator John McCain's death in 2018, some members of Congress called to rename the Senate Russell office building instead of McCain. But those efforts have not come to fruition.

House of Representatives sources in Congress told CNN that there could be a greater effort to observe large-scale changes that should be made on Capitol Hill in addition to physical works of art.

There are ongoing discussions on the potential renewal of the "Capitol Architect" website, which lists descriptions of statues and artwork throughout the Capitol.

Some believe the descriptions paint too rosy of an image of Confederates and other historical figures, and need to reevaluate the way they commemorate people in official publications.

CNN's Haley Byrd and Ali Zaslav contributed to this report.

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