GOP Sens. Johnson, Lankford Backpedal on Replacing Columbus Day as a Federal Holiday

Andrew Davenport | July 6, 2020 | 4:47pm EDT
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Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.)  (Getty Images)
Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) (Getty Images)

( - On Friday, July 3, Sens. James Lankford (R-Okla.) and Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) withdrew a proposed amendment that would have replaced Columbus Day with Juneteenth as a federal holiday. 

The proposal by Lankford and Johnson was an amendment to a bill sponsored by Senator John Cornyn (R-Texas).

Cornyn’s resolution said, “Designating June 19, 2020, as ‘Juneteenth Independence Day’ in recognition of June 19, 1865, the date on which news of the end of slavery reached the slaves in the Southwestern States.”

Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wisc.)  (Getty Images)
Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wisc.) (Getty Images)

Lankford and Johnson cited their amendment as a way to reduce the burden placed on federal services and local businesses by federal holidays.

“Juneteenth is a day in our history that redefined the meaning of freedom and equality in America,” said Sen. Lankford

“Throughout our history, we have strived to become a more perfect union and Juneteenth was a huge step in attaining that goal,” he said. “We should celebrate these strides on the federal level while remaining cognizant of the impact the existing 10 federal holidays have on federal services and local businesses.”

“We can reduce these impacts by replacing Columbus Day as a federal holiday with Juneteenth, America’s second independence day,” said Lankford. “I’m hopeful the Senate will support this amendment to celebrate this significant day in our nation’s history.”

Christopher Columbus portrait. (Public domain)
Christopher Columbus portrait. (Public domain)

In the same release, Sen. Johnson said, “In response to a bipartisan effort to give federal workers another day of paid leave by designating Juneteenth a federal holiday, we have offered a counterproposal that does not put us further in debt.”

“We support celebrating emancipation with a federal holiday, but believe we should eliminate a current holiday in exchange,” he said. “We chose Columbus Day as a holiday that is lightly celebrated, and least disruptive to Americans’ schedules.”

Lankford’s senate website listed the economic cost of a single federal holiday to be estimated around $600 million for paid time off for federal employees.

On his Fox News Channel program on July 1, conservative Tucker Carlson criticized both Johnson and Lankford. “They’re hoping to quietly eliminate Columbus Day and then move on to the next item on the rioter’s list of demands,” said Carlson.

“Senators Johnson and Lankford may be a little confused as well,” he added. “They describe themselves as conservatives, improbable as that may seem. On some level, they may suspect that all the yelling about Columbus Day and Juneteenth does not really have much to do with emancipation or civil rights. More likely, it is just another way to humiliate and demoralize Americans. On some level, they know that, but they are ignoring it. It is just easier to do what the hysteria patients command. Unless of course, their voters notice them doing it.”   

Carlson implied that Lankford and Johnson’s voters should make their voices of opposition heard. He noted that there was pushback to Senator Mike Braun’s (R-Ind.) proposal to to scale back qualified immunity for police officers, and claimed that Braun is now “running away from his own bill.”

On Friday, July 3, Lankford and Johnson announced they were withdrawing the proposed amendment to replace Columbus Day with Juneteenth. 

A statue of Christopher Columbus in Minneapolis, Minn., is torn down by radical, left-wing protesters.  (Screenshot, YouTube)
A statue of Christopher Columbus in Minneapolis, Minn., is torn down by radical, left-wing protesters. (Screenshot, YouTube)

Senator Johnson made a statement explaining why he chose to withdraw the amendment. 

“Rather than allow another paid day off for federal workers to pass without debate, or even a vote, I wanted to start a discussion, and I did,” he said.  “In fact, I received a number of very good suggestions. Accordingly, the original amendment is being withdrawn, and I am introducing a modified one.”

“Instead of eliminating a current holiday to make room for Juneteenth Day, I will be proposing to reduce the number of paid leave days federal employees receive, to offset the cost of the new holiday celebrating emancipation,” said Johnson. “This modification both preserves Columbus Day and the dollars of hard-working taxpayers.”

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