House Speaker Nancy Pelosi Thursday made a distinction between taking down statues of Confederate leaders and those of past U.S. presidents who were slaveowners.
Pelosi has spearheaded an effort to take down 11 statues in the Capitol of Confederate leaders but stopped short Thursday of disavowing statues of President Thomas Jefferson and President George Washington, whom some activists say should no longer be enshrined since they owned enslaved persons.
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“It’s not about Washington and Jefferson, it’s about Alexander Stephens,” Pelosi said at a Capitol press conference.
Among the 11 statues Pelosi wants banished from the Capitol are Jefferson Davis and Alexander Stephens, the former president and vice president of the Confederate states who were charged with treason against the United States. She also directed the removal of paintings of four previous House Speakers who served in the Confederacy.
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In the midst of protests following George Floyd’s death and a national reckoning about symbols to racist ideals, Pelosi suggested that not all statues are the same and she’s specifically targeted those that represent the violent bigotry of the Confederacy.
“I do believe that if people have committed treason against the United States of America their statue should not be in the Capitol,” Pelosi said.
Former Vice President Joe Biden also distinguished between statues honoring the pro-slavery Confederacy and other historic figures who have fallen out of favor. In a press conference Tuesday, Biden said the federal government has an obligation to protect certain monuments, like Washington and Jefferson.
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“The idea of comparing whether or not George Washington owned slaves or Thomas Jefferson owned slaves, and somebody who was in rebellion committing treason trying to take down a union to keep slavery, I think there’s a distinction there,” Biden said.