Quick Takes on the News: On a Pedestal

June 11, 2019
In The News

Thanks to a quirk in the rulebook, Democratic hopes of banishing statues of former Confederate figures from the Capitol rest with one person: GOP Sen. Roy Blunt, chair of the Joint Committee on the Library.

The chairmanship of the committee, which has five members from each chamber and an even partisan split, switches between chambers each term. As National Journal reported in the immediate aftermath of the Charlottesville attack in August 2017, the Joint Library Committee has full authority to relocate statues around the Capitol through passage of a committee resolution, and could theoretically vote to place statues of former Confederates in a secluded area out of the public eye to, in effect, exile them.

Hearings can be called by the chair with the concurrence of the vice chair, in this case Democratic Rep. Zoe Lofgren.

The committee has voted to relocate numerous statues through the years, most recently for the opening of the Capitol Visitor Center.

A spokesperson for Rep. Tim Ryan, who sits on the committee, said he would favor such a strategy, which would avoid a fight on the House floor and likely death in the Senate. Lofgren went further and said, I support their removal to recognize individuals worthy of the honor of inclusion in the National Statuary Hall Collection. A spokesperson for Sen. Amy Klobuchar said she also supports removing them from the Capitol. Aides to Blunt did not respond to multiple inquiries on the matter.

States are responsible for selecting which two people are represented in the National Statuary Hall Collection, usually via a vote of the state legislature. In 2017, legislation cosponsored by Ryan and Lofgren would have permanently removed Confederate statues from the Capitol, but the bill stalled in the GOP-controlled House Administration Committee.

According to The Washington Post, there are 12 Confederate statues in the Capitol, including those of Jefferson Davis, Robert E. Lee, and Alexander Stephens. Only Alabama has replaced a Confederate statue, swapping the long-forgotten Jabez Curry for Helen Keller. Florida is in the process of replacing Confederate Gen. Edmund Kirby Smith with civil rights activist and college founder Mary McLeod Bethune.