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Mississippi Senators Defend Jefferson Davis

A statue of Jefferson Davis, the president of the Confederacy and a Mississippi senator, has a prime spot in National Statuary Hall in the U.S. Capitol. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Mississippi's two senators are ready to change the state flag, but they still honor and defend Jefferson Davis, the man who served as the president of the Confederacy and whose statue stands prominently in the U.S. Capitol's National Statuary Hall.  

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell tossed Jefferson Davis under the proverbial bus Tuesday — calling for the Davis statue in Kentucky's Capitol to be moved to a museum — part of a wave of efforts across the nation to roll back Confederate symbols after images emerged of Dylann Roof, accused of killing nine in a racially motivated massacre in Charleston, S.C., posing with the Confederate battle flag. But Republicans Thad Cochran and Roger Wicker of Mississippi stood by Davis Wednesday in separate hallway interviews at the Capitol with CQ Roll Call.  

"I want to suggest that you read a book called Freedom's Cap, which outlines the pivotal role Congressman Jefferson Davis, Senator Jefferson Davis, and Secretary of War Jefferson Davis had in the building of this building, which points out he was an opponent of secession, and only left the Senate after Mississippi had voted to secede," said Wicker, who chairs the National Republican Senatorial Committee.  

"In short, his contribution to this building, and to this nation, was profound. … Along with Montgomery Meigs, Jefferson Davis was as responsible as any American for the current House and Senate wings being as beautiful and having the high quality that they have today. And they were done so without graft. So Jefferson Davis is a historical figure to be studied and to be honored.  

"Was he perfect? No. Was anybody? No. But I would … to take a logical leap from changing a flag, that is seen by so many to be hurtful, to every historical figure that may have sided with the Confederacy or may have owned slaves or may have mistreated Native Americans, is I don't think a leap that we want to take."  

Cochran, the chairman of the Appropriations Committee, didn't sound any more eager to remove Davis when asked about reconsidering the Davis statue.  

"I don’t know. I don’t want them taking my desk away either. That's Jefferson Davis's desk over there where I'm sitting. ...I'm very proud to have that. The senior senator from Mississippi always is given the opportunity to sit at the Davis desk."  

Asked repeatedly about the statue, Cochran kept referring a reporter to his three-sentence statement he issued Wednesday morning about the flag.  

The Mississippi state flag, which includes the Confederate battle flag as part of its design, hangs in the U.S. Capitol along the Senate subway. The state's two senators called for changing the flag design Wednesday. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

The Mississippi state flag, which includes the Confederate battle flag as part of its design, hangs in the U.S. Capitol along the Senate subway. The state's two senators called for changing the flag design Wednesday. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

(Both Cochran and Wicker came out for changing the state flag after earlier remaining agnostic on the issue .)  

Former Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss., also said Wednesday he supports the Davis statue.  

Lott told CQ Roll Call he didn't think Congress should get involved in the decisions about statues in the Statuary Hall collection, including Davis.

"I would suggest that they not start messing around with state-designated statues," he said.
Lott also said Davis was qualified for the Statuary Hall honor based on service prior to the Civil War, as a senator from Mississippi and secretary of War under President Franklin Pierce.
In the hall, Davis stands opposite statues of Alexander Hamilton Stephens, the vice president of the Confederacy, and Rosa Parks.
Wicker, meanwhile, after being asked what he made of the frenzy of efforts to roll back Confederate symbols across the country, paused and expressed surprise at the question.
"I'm just amazed that I'm being asked about this, during a week in which South Carolina has come together in a spirit of unity on a very profound decision, on a day that Tim Scott and Lindsey Graham said what they said on the floor. To somehow brush past that and want to talk about something else is just amazing to me." Niels Lesniewski contributed to this report.

Related: NRSC Chairman Evolves on Mississippi State Flag Confederate Flag Aside, Other Symbols are Everywhere  McConnell Wants Kentucky Jefferson Davis Statue Moved to Museum Calls to Remove Confederate Flag Resonate in Capitol See photos, follies, HOH Hits and Misses and more at Roll Call's new video site. Get breaking news alerts and more from Roll Call in your inbox or on your iPhone.