WASHINGTON — House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is demanding that statues of Confederate figures such as Jefferson Davis be removed from the U.S. Capitol.
In a letter, Pelosi told a House-Senate committee with jurisdiction over the controversial topic that Confederate statues “pay homage to hate, not heritage. They must be removed.”
The California Democrat made the announcement on the very day President Donald Trump vowed on Twitter that he would not rename military bases honoring Confederate generals. Only a short time before Pelosi's statement, NASCAR announced it would ban displays of the Confederate flag at its races.
Confederate monuments have reemerged as a national flash point since the death of George Floyd, a black man who died after a white Minneapolis officer pressed his knee into his neck for several minutes. Protesters decrying racism have targeted Confederate monuments in multiple cities, and some state officials are considering taking them down.
Pelosi lacks the authority to order the removal of the 11 Capitol statues honoring Confederates but is urging the little-noticed Joint Committee on the Library to vote to remove them. Senate Republicans share jurisdiction.
“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," Pelosi wrote. “Monuments to men who advocated cruelty and barbarism to achieve such a plainly racist end are a grotesque affront to these ideals.”
The presence of statues of generals and other figures of the Confederacy in Capitol locations such as Statuary Hall — the original House chamber — has been offensive to African American lawmakers for many years. Former Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., D-Ill., was known to give tours pointing out the numerous statues.
But it's up to the states to determine which of their historical figures to display. Jefferson Davis, a former U.S. senator from Mississippi who was president of the Confederate States of America, is represented by one of two statues from that state. Pelosi noted that Davis and Confederate Vice President Alexander Stephens, whose statue comes from Georgia, “were charged with treason against the United States."
“Several states have moved toward replacing statues and others appear headed in the same direction. This process is ongoing and encouraging," said Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., chairman of the Library Committee. “As Speaker Pelosi is undoubtedly aware, the law does not permit the Architect of the Capitol or the Joint Committee of Congress on the Library to remove a statue from the Capitol once it has been received.”
Pelosi called for removing the statues in 2017 after a violent white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, shocked the nation. Republican controlling Congress at the time dismissed the idea.
During her first stint as speaker, Pelosi successfully worked to replace a statue of Gen. Robert E. Lee in Statuary Hall with one of civil rights icon Rosa Parks. Lee's statue was moved to a less prominent area of the Capitol.
Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., the top Democrat on the library panel, called for an immediate vote to remove the statues.