Republican Sens. Ron Johnson and James Lankford on Wednesday introduced an amendment proposing to replace Columbus Day with Juneteenth as a new federal holiday to avoid putting the U.S. “further in debt.”
Johnson, R-Wis., and Lankford, R-Okla., rolled out their proposal as an amendment to bipartisan legislation rolled out by Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, last month that would make Juneteenth a federal holiday.
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“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,” Johnson said Wednesday. “We support celebrating emancipation with a federal holiday, but believe we should eliminate a current holiday in exchange. We chose Columbus Day as a holiday that is lightly celebrated, and least disruptive to Americans’ schedules.”
According to Johnson’s office, the economic cost of a single federal holiday has been estimated to be about $600 million for paid time off for federal employees.
“Juneteenth is a day in our history that redefined the meaning of freedom and equality in America,” Lankford 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.”
He added: “We can reduce these impacts by replacing Columbus Day as a federal holiday with Juneteenth, America’s second independence day. I’m hopeful the Senate will support this amendment to celebrate this significant day in our nation’s history.”
The proposal comes as states like New York and cities across the country moved to make Juneteenth a holiday for state and city employees.
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Juneteenth – first made a state holiday by Texas in 1980 – commemorates June 19, 1865, the day news finally reached African-Americans in Texas that President Abraham Lincoln had issued the Emancipation Proclamation freeing slaves living in Confederate states two years earlier. When Union soldiers arrived in Galveston to bring the news that slavery had been abolished, former slaves celebrated.
The move to make Juneteenth a holiday for state employees comes amid turmoil across the nation and around the world over the death of George Floyd, who died in police custody on May 25 after a Minneapolis officer pressed his knee into Floyd’s neck for several minutes.
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Meanwhile, protesters in cities around the United States have been tearing down, defacing and vandalizing statues of Christopher Columbus, saying that he “represents genocide.”
Columbus was an Italian Renaissance-era explorer who led the expedition that preceded the European colonization of North and South America — and, as a result, he has been both celebrated and denounced as a historical figure.
There is also a movement that calls for the replacement of Columbus Day with “Indigenous Peoples’ Day.”
Fox News’ Greg Norman, Michael Ruiz and The Associated Press contributed to this report.