Oklahoma Sen. James Lankford and Wisconsin Sen. Ron Johnson insist they support the federal observance of Juneteenth—an annual holiday that commemorates the end of U.S. slavery—but oppose adding another federal holiday to the calendar. They have instead proposed replacing Juneteenth with Columbus Day, ensuring government workers wouldn't receive an extra day of paid leave.
"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 in a statement 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."
Lankford, the co-sponsor of the proposal, echoed Johnson's argument about the financial impact of an extra holiday: "Juneteenth is a day in our history that redefined the meaning of freedom and equality in America. 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."
Over the past several years, an increasing number of states and cities have chosen to scrap Columbus Day in favor of Indigenous Peoples' Day. Christopher Columbus has been a contentious historical figure for quite some time, as many have pointed out that his journeys to the Americas included the eradication of native people through brutal violence and enslavement. Others believe the Italian explorer should be celebrated for his so-called "discovery" of the New World. Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), a co-sponsor of the bill, falls in the latter group.
According to the New York Post, Cornyn said removing Columbus Day as a federal holiday "dilutes the message we're trying to send, which is one of being respectful and honoring and remembering our history." The senator is now trying to move the Juneteenth bill to the floor, where he expects it to pass by unanimous consent or voice vote.