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.
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.
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