July 22, 2020 / 5:27 PM / 22 days ago

U.S. House votes to banish from Capitol statues of those who championed slavery

FILE PHOTO: A general view of the U.S. Capitol building, amid the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S. July 21, 2020. REUTERS/Tom Brenner

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Democratic-controlled U.S. House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly on Wednesday to remove statues honoring those who upheld slavery or joined the Confederacy from the Capitol building, which houses statues selected by all 50 states.

The statues and busts include one honoring former U.S. Chief Justice Roger Taney, who authored a key decision supporting slavery. Democrats have also pointed to a statue of John C. Breckinridge, a former vice president and senator who was expelled from the body after joining the Confederate army.

Democratic Representative Barbara Lee called the statues “painful symbols of bigotry and racism.” She said they did “nothing more than keep white supremacy front-and-center in one of the most influential buildings in the world.”

The bill passed by a vote of 305-113, with Republicans deeply divided. The bill must also be approved by the Republican-controlled Senate and signed by President Donald Trump. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican, has not indicated whether he would bring the bill to a vote.

The United States in recent months has seen a wave of protests against racism and the use of violence by police against Black Americans, sparked by the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police. But they have evolved into a wide-ranging rethinking of measures that honor Americans who supported slavery.

Trump has lashed out at the idea of removing statues, accusing Democrats of wanting to erase the nation’s history. He has threatened to veto a House-passed $740 billion bill setting policy for the Pentagon because it contains language that would require the military to remove the names of former Confederate leaders from its bases.

Taney wrote the majority opinion in the 1857 “Dred Scott” case, ruling that Black Americans could not be considered citizens and that Congress could not prohibit slavery. It later was overturned by the 14th Amendment to the Constitution, which was adopted in 1868.

Representative James Clyburn, the No. 3 House Democrat, told reporters his party was not advocating the destruction of statues, adding they could be placed in museums “until the states that sent them up here ... can come and get them.”

Reporting by Richard Cowan; Editing by Scott Malone, Alistair Bell and Peter Cooney

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