Updated 12:32 p.m. | House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi on Thursday joined a drumbeat from other Democrats, calling for the removal of Confederate statues from the U.S. Capitol.
“The halls of Congress are the very heart of our democracy. The statues in the Capitol should embody our highest ideals as Americans, expressing who we are and who we aspire to be as a nation,” the California Democrat said in a statement
“The Confederate statues in the halls of Congress have always been reprehensible,” she added. “If Republicans are serious about rejecting white supremacy, I call upon Speaker [Paul D.] Ryan to join Democrats to remove the Confederate statues from the Capitol immediately.”
Ryan spokesman Doug Andres said in a statement that “these are decisions for those states to make.” (Each state contributes two statues each for display at various locations in the Capitol.)
Pelosi added her clout as the House’s top Democrat to the push a few hours after Democratic Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey, who is African-American, said he intends to introduce a bill that would force the removal of Confederate statues from the U.S. Capitol.
But President Donald Trump appears strongly opposed to putting such statues in storage. In a tweet Thursday morning, he said the history and culture of the country was being “ripped apart” by removing “our beautiful statues and monuments.”
A first step
Booker, who is often mentioned as a potential 2020 presidential candidate, announced his plan late Wednesday night in a tweet, just days after white supremacist groups and counter-protesters clashed on Friday night and Saturday in Charlottesville, Virginia.
“I will be introducing a bill to remove Confederate statues from the US Capitol building,” Booker wrote.
He called the potential move “just one step,” adding that the country has “much work to do” on race relations and related topics.
I will be introducing a bill to remove Confederate statues from the US Capitol building. This is just one step. We have much work to do.— Cory Booker (@CoryBooker) August 17, 2017
There are a dozen Confederate statues in the Capitol’s National Statuary Hall Collection, according to the Architect of the Capitol. That list includes statues of Confederate President Jefferson Davis and Robert E. Lee, who commanded the secessionist states’ military during the Civil War.
State governments decide their statues and whether they should be replaced.
Congress set the parameters for replacing Capitol statues in 2000. The rules stipulate that a state can ask for permission to replace a statue. But first, the state legislature and governor must approve a resolution asking that it be replaced. The statue being replaced must also have been in the Capitol for at least 10 years.
It was a plan by Charlottesville officials to take down a statute of Lee in a public park there that drew the white supremacist groups to organize their Friday night torch march and Saturday protest.
Other African-American lawmakers this week have also said they want the Capitol’s Confederate statues to be removed. A Congressional Black Caucus spokesperson told Roll Call, however, that the group is not crafting any legislation to that end.
Whether any such bill could pass both chambers is questionable. It is not clear if Republican lawmakers, especially those hailing from Southern states where Confederate figures remain iconic, would risk angering constituents by voting to remove the statues heading into the 2018 midterms.
What’s more, Trump would have to sign the legislation into law. But he made his view of Confederate statutes clear during a combative press conference on Tuesday, during which he appeared to give cover to some among the Confederate Battle Flag-toting white supremacists who participated in the Charlottesville protests and are part of his political base — which he talks about and praises often.
“This week, it’s Robert E. Lee. I noticed that Stonewall Jackson is coming down,” Trump said. “I wonder, is it George Washington next week and is it Thomas Jefferson the week after? You know, you really do have to ask yourself, where does it stop?”
The president said it should be up to local officials to decide whether to take down Confederate statues.
But on Thursday, the president said on Twitter that “you … can’t change history, but you can learn from it,” in bemoaning the removal of the statues and monuments.
Sad to see the history and culture of our great country being ripped apart with the removal of our beautiful statues and monuments. You.....— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 17, 2017
...can't change history, but you can learn from it. Robert E Lee, Stonewall Jackson - who's next, Washington, Jefferson? So foolish! Also...— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 17, 2017
...the beauty that is being taken out of our cities, towns and parks will be greatly missed and never able to be comparably replaced!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 17, 2017
Booker could be playing right into the White House’s hands. Trump’s chief strategist, Steve Bannon, who has been accused by Republicans and Democrats alike for alleged ties to far-right and white nationalist groups, made clear this week he welcomes debates about race.
“The Democrats, the longer they talk about identity politics, I got ’em,” Bannon told The American Prospect, a liberal publication — though he has since said he did not know the conversation was on the record.
“I want them to talk about racism every day,” he said. “If the left is focused on race and identity, and we go with economic nationalism, we can crush the Democrats.”
Lindsey McPherson contributed to this report.