Jul 22, 2020
House Democrats Press Conference Transcript July 22: Removing Confederate Statues from US Capital
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer and other House Democrats discussed the removal of confederate statues on July 22. Hoyer said: “The House is taking a long overdue and historic step to ensure that individuals we honor in our Capitol represent our nation’s highest ideals and not the worst in its history”. Read the transcript here.
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Majority Leader Hoyer: (00:00)
… and of our country. Today, the House is taking a long overdue and historic step to ensure that individuals we honor in our Capitol represent our nation’s highest ideals and not the worst in its history. We lament the loss of John Lewis, a man of principal conviction, and of conscience. This is an action we will take today of principle and conviction. Defenders and purveyors of sedition, slavery, segregation, and white supremacy have no place in this temple of Liberty. That’s why we introduced H.R.7573. Barbara Lee, Karen Bass, and G.K. Butterfield, who are here with me, Jim Clyburn, our Whip, Mr. Thompson, who is the chairman of the Homeland Security Committee. We introduced this bill not only to make a statement, to make a reality of whom we honor in the Congress of the United States, in this temple of Liberty.
Majority Leader Hoyer: (01:20)
As a Marylander, I worked to ensure that this bill includes the removal of the bust of a former chief justice, Roger Brooke Taney, born in the district that I represent, a son of slave owners, and replace it with a bust of Justice Thurgood Marshall. In Maryland, when I was sworn in as a member of the Maryland State Senate in 1967, we were on the East front of the Capitol and there was a bust of Roger Brooke… Excuse me, a statute of Roger Brooke Taney. Again, as I say, Maryland’s highest ranking official in the federal government in our history. I thought to myself that that was odd, but frankly, took no action. And I regret that I was silent.
Majority Leader Hoyer: (02:12)
However, just a few years ago, our Republican governor and Democratic legislature removed that statute from the East front of the Capitol. And the irony of history is that if you walked from the East front of the Capitol through the Maryland Capitol in Annapolis, and came out on the West side, you would walk into Thurgood Marshall Park. It’s time to sweep away the last vestiges of Jim Crow and the dehumanizing of individuals because of the color of their skin that intruded for too long on the sacred spaces of our democracy. As we work to ensure that black lives matter… Some people dismiss that phrase. “Well, all lives matter.”
Majority Leader Hoyer: (03:09)
But what Dred Scott said was, black lives did not matter. So when we assert that, yes, they do matter, it is out of conviction and conscience and appropriateness that in America, the land of the free and the home of the brave, that the land of the brave include all of us. And then we ensure that black Americans are treated with dignity and respect in our institutions of government and justice. These statues must be relegated to the dark places of a shameful stain on our history.
Majority Leader Hoyer: (03:52)
I want to thank my co-sponsors. Barbara Lee, who has been a fighter for such a long period of time, who has committed herself to this objective. And I’m pleased that she’s my co-sponsor. I talked to Karen Bass about Roger Brooke Taney, but then we expanded that discussion. Karen Bass, the chair of the Congressional Black Caucus. Karen, thank you for your leadership and your conviction. And then, Justice G.K. Butterfield, a member of the Supreme Court of the state of North Carolina, who is so grounded in the law and in the case law, and is so familiar with the cases of the Supreme Court. I prayerfully anticipate that we could come together, Democrats and Republicans, to reject hatred and racism, and to make it clear through a strong bipartisan vote that the statues of these individuals have no place in our Capitol.
Majority Leader Hoyer: (04:54)
We have now been joined by one of the great civil rights leaders of our country, a colleague of John Lewis’s in the movement, in the fight, in the struggle, and in prison. Whereas he says he met his wife, Emily, who was herself a leader in the struggle and in the movement. Who has identified for us, people who gave comfort and voice to the bigotry and the hate that was segregation and slavery and sedition. So I’m pleased that he as well is a leader on this effort as we go to the floor. As I said, I anticipate that we will come together, Democrats and Republicans, to reject this.
Majority Leader Hoyer: (05:49)
Those statutes that we will remove, those remembrances that we will remove ought to, as I said, be relegated to a place of history of the dark stains in America, not the high convictions of America. Just as the idea as the espoused should have no standing in the land of the free, one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all. And we say to Tone and to all those others who statutes and representations will be removed as a result of this legislation, all means all.
Majority Leader Hoyer: (06:37)
And now I’d like to yield to my co-sponsor, Congresswoman Barbara Lee from the state of California.
Barbara Lee: (06:50)
Thank you very much. First, let me thank Majority Leader Hoyer for your tremendous leadership and for really helping to bring this bill forward, and your fight for justice and for equality that’s been consistent throughout your life. Also, to our Whip Clyburn, Chairwoman Bass, Chairman Thompson in his absence. I’m sure he’ll be here very shortly. And Congressman Butterfield. Yes, also our historian, as is our Whip, Mr. Clyburn. I want to just thank you for the opportunity to work with you on this important issue. As the descendant of an enslaved human being, my great grandfather was born in Galveston, Texas, and my grandfather was born 10 years on 1875. And so this is very dear to me, in terms of making sure that all of these monuments to that horrific period and beyond, are not glorified anymore in this Capitol.
Barbara Lee: (07:59)
In 2017, in the wake of the white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, I introduced the Confederate Monument Removal Act to remove all the statues of people who voluntarily served the Confederacy from the Capitol building. And Mr. Hoyer, I want to thank you for including that bill into H.R.7573. Venerating those who took up arms against the United States to preserve the enslavement of black people was an affront to human dignity and a shameful reminder of the harmful legacies of slavery. The presence of these statues in the National Statuary Hall Collection ignores the key context in which these monuments were first erected. The movement to honor Confederate soldiers, it was a deliberate act to rewrite the very history of the United States and to humanize acts designed to dehumanize African Americans, human beings. They are not symbols of Southern heritage as some claim today. Statues of Robert E. Lee, Jefferson-
Speaker 1: (09:03)
Of Southern heritage as some claim today statues of Robert E. Lee, Jefferson Davis and others were erected across the United States in the post-Reconstruction era and during the Civil Rights Movement as symbols of white supremacy and defiance, mind you, defiance of federal authority. Systemic racism and injustice has never been clearer than now. Keeping these statues and [inaudible 00:09:25] these shameful figures of our history does nothing more than keep white supremacy front and center in one of the most influential buildings in the world. These painful symbols of bigotry and racism, they have no place in our society and certainly should not be enshrined in the United States Capitol. So it’s past time that we end the glorification of men who committed treason against the United States in a concerted effort to keep African-Americans in chains.
Speaker 1: (09:57)
Now from racial health disparities to the murder of innocent black people at the hands of law enforcement in this moment in history, enough is enough. We’ve got a long way to go in our fight for justice and the removal of Confederate statues from the United States Capitol, this is a very important step toward eradicating the symbols and the systems that have held back our path forward but also have been glorified and honored as symbols that do not have any place in this Capitol. So thank you all again. Thank you Mr. Hoyer for including our bill in this and really appreciate your leadership.
Majority Leader Hoyer: (10:43)
Thank you, and now as I indicated one of the most significant leaders in the movement in the late 50s and 60s which transformed America, and as we lament the loss of the life of our beloved John Lewis, we honor the life of James Clyburn, our Democratic whip. Mr. Whip.
James Clyburn: (11:10)
Thank you very much Mr. Leader. I apologize for being a few moments late today but I turned the big 8-0 on yesterday. I joined an exclusive club –
Speaker 2: (11:28)
Don’t name names.
James Clyburn: (11:28)
Started the early morning with a group of my constituents back in South Carolina to celebrate that event, but I want to be here today because I think it’s important for us to put into proper perspective what it is these various pieces of legislation we’re attempting to do. As Steny mentioned, I met John Lewis just short of 60 years ago, October 1960. For over 50 of those 60 years, Steny and I have had a relationship starting out in the Young Democrats, over a half century ago.
James Clyburn: (12:17)
Throughout all of that time, many of us have tolerated some issues that were problems for us. I got to tell you I remember when my parents first got the unfettered right to vote. I remember what it meant to them to get that vote. I remember watching Confederate battle flags on automobiles parading through my neighborhood when I was growing up. I remember how it struck fear in us schoolchildren, afraid to go out to play because of what was called the Night Riders and that flag was their symbol. I know after going off and studying history, and for me to study about the Holocaust and what it meant in Germany and for Germany to outlaw the swastika and for the haters of Germany to pick up the Confederate battle flag to replace it and if you cannot understand what that symbolizes, then something is kind of wrong with you.
James Clyburn: (13:54)
So we know what the Confederate battle flag symbolizes. The fact of the matter is, G. K. and I have discussions about this all the time. He’s being from North Carolina, me being from South Carolina, we were one one time, but so much, just as West Virginia and Virginia were one one time. The divisions came over which side of history you were on and so when people say these are symbols of heritage and not hate, I say to them, hate is a heritage, dependent on what side of history you’re on.
James Clyburn: (14:47)
So I want to thank Steny for his vision of getting all these expressions into one piece of legislation and bringing it forward so we can unite behind this whole notion of a more perfect union. That’s what we’re in pursuit of. Let me close with two thoughts. The first one is this. So much of this is about made-up history. That battle flag that you see flying around, that is not the Confederate flag and it never was the Confederate flag. The Confederate flag, the stars and bars, is not that St. Andrew’s cross with those stars you see on what’s the Confederate battle flags. It is not that square flag, the flag of Northern Virginia. The Confederate flag was a circle of stars and three bars and the Confederacy, the people who moved to preserve that, always rejected, every time they got a chance, they rejected that flag that’s being celebrated. The Daughters of the Confederacy refused to accept that flag. That was a flag of Nathan Bedford Forrest, the Confederate general who became a Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan.
James Clyburn: (16:23)
So the history of the Confederate flag is not being truthfully told and I would love to see that flag put in its proper perspective so that people who talk about preserving the Confederacy or its memory and its cause can come to face with the misrepresentation that they carry with it. Finally, nobody is talking about destroying statues. I do not believe that [inaudible 00:16:59], no matter how ill-fated it may be, I do not advocate and don’t want anybody tearing down any statues. I want them put in their proper perspective as Steny just mentioned, put them in the museum. The ones here in the Capitol, this legislation calls for removing them from a place of honor and putting them maybe over in some museum until the states that sent them up here, including my state, can come and get them. John C. Calhoun is [inaudible 00:17:43] yet Charleston has taken the statue down. Clemson has removed John C. Calhoun’s name from its honors college. We ought not do appear for my home state
James Clyburn: (18:03)
… ought not do up here for my home state has decided, it will no longer honor Wade Hampton. I was with Bennie Thompson last night, we were looking at the history of Wade Hampton. He was a big slave owner. Owned more slaves in Mississippi than he did in South Carolina. We ought not be preserving that. Put them in their proper perspective, in a museum. Now to our chair, our leader of the Congressional Black Caucus, Ms. Karen Bass.
Karen Bass: (18:43)
Good morning, everyone. Let me just thank our leadership for the foresight to take up the legislation, to remove these symbols that to me are hate in this particular period of time. I think it’s so appropriate that we do this also in honor of Mr. Lewis. The main honor for Mr. Lewis to me is to get a signature on the Voting Rights Act, but this is also a way to honor his legacy because what he fought for every day is the exact opposite of these symbols.
Karen Bass: (19:14)
The People’s House, as I call the Capitol, can never really be for the people with reminders of a painful history that sought to continue the enslavement and our control of the African American population. Just imagine what it feels like as an African American, to know that my ancestors built the Capitol, but yet there are monuments to the very people that enslaved my ancestors and while statues do reflect an aspect of our history, statues are not just historical markers but are tributes, a way to honor an individual and these individuals do not deserve to be honored. Their role in our history should absolutely be remembered.
Karen Bass: (19:56)
I do think as we go through this period in our history, it’s important not just to move these people away, but to understand who they were. Because when you do learn about some of the horrific crimes that they committed, including mass murder, you would really wonder how they ever got here in the first place. Their role in history should be remembered, but it should be accurately told so individuals like these never rise to powerful positions in our nation again.
Karen Bass: (20:26)
Personally, as a black lawmaker, the presence of these statues represent an acceptance of white supremacy and racism, something that we are fighting day in and day out to dismantle. The protest that took place after the brutal murder of George Floyd initially focused on police abuse, especially the long history of abuse involving African Americans. The protest movement has now expanded to examine our history and the institutions of our society. This new movement has the potential to contribute to moving us to become a more perfect union. I’m proud to join my colleagues that today to introduce this bill that not only removes the bust of Chief Justice Rob Taney, but of all the other statues of the defenders of slavery and segregation located in the U.S. Capitol. I have heard that somewhere in the Capitol, there’s a jail that people were put in at one point in time and maybe that would be a proper location for these statutes.
Karen Bass: (21:26)
As the world watches the United States during this moral moment, we must be a reflection of the leadership that we project globally. It is a time to replace the monuments of oppression with the monuments of liberty. Thank you.
Karen Bass: (21:42)
Oh, and I now refer to the former chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, Justice G. K. Butterfield.
G. K. Butterfield: (21:51)
Thank you, Congresswoman Karen Bass. Let me begin by thanking the majority leader for his extraordinary leadership on this issue. Ever since I’ve been in Congress and yesterday marked my 16th anniversary, every day since I have served with Steny Hoyer, this has been his passion among other things. Thank you Steny for continuing the fight. Thank you for reaching out to other members who had other ideas that were similar to yours and we culled together all of these pieces of legislation and now we have a consensus on 7573.
G. K. Butterfield: (22:25)
Congresswoman Barbara Lee, you have been a stalwart. You have done so much for the Democratic Caucus and for America. I’ve also watched you and your work down through the years and you are nothing less than extraordinary and I want to thank you for your leadership.
G. K. Butterfield: (22:40)
What can I say about Jim Clyburn? One of my best friends here in Washington. Jim is the undisputed historian in the Congressional Black Caucus and arguably in the House Democratic Caucus and for him to say that I am a student of history is really an honor, but my knowledge of history pales in comparison to his. I learn from him every day and I thank him so much for that.
G. K. Butterfield: (23:05)
Finally, to Congresswoman Karen Bass, who has distinguished herself, not just on a national stage, but now on a world stage, who leads in so many ways and just thank you, Karen Bass, for all that you do for all of us.
G. K. Butterfield: (23:21)
Congresswoman Barbara Lee mentioned her ancestors and I was debating with myself before she said that whether or not I should invoke the names of my ancestors, but since she’s opened that door, I certainly want to take advantage of it. My great grandmother was a slave born in 1840 in Edgecombe County, North Carolina. She had a baby by a white man. I don’t think it was their slave master, but his name was Joe Davis. Had a baby by Joe Davis and in 1866, my grandfather was that baby. He was Fred. That was his name. In today’s terminology, he would be referred to as biracial. Back during those days, as Mr. Clyburn often reminds me, he was a mulatto. That was the terminology that was used.
G. K. Butterfield: (24:15)
I too grew up in the South, in the rural South, in the segregated South during the ’50s and ’60s. I saw the Confederate flag, some of us call them rebel flags. I saw the Confederate monuments. I saw the colored and white water fountain on the steps on the yard of our county courthouse where I was a judge for many years and it still stands even though colored and white inscriptions have been removed and the fountains have been removed, the monument is still there. That’s the South that I grew up watching.
G. K. Butterfield: (24:49)
A nation cannot rewrite its history. I think we’ve all alluded to that, but we can, we should be intentional on who we honor and what we honor. The United States of America has a dark history of slavery. I know, I remember so well, but the word slavery could not even have been mentioned on the floor of the House or Senate during the antebellum era. That word was taken down it was ever uttered by a member of Congress. We need to be mindful of this history.
G. K. Butterfield: (25:28)
Our present should reflect our progress and not this past. H.R.7573 would replace the bust of Chief Justice, Roger B. Taney, and Mr. Jorge talked about that extensively. It sits in the old Supreme Court Chamber in the lower level of the Capitol with … It should be replaced with the bust of Associate Justice Thurgood Marshall, who we all know was the first African American to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court. Our legislation also calls for the removal of other shameful reminders of systemic racism from the U.S. Capitol.
G. K. Butterfield: (26:05)
I am a former judge and justice, that was mentioned and I would argue that the Dred Scott decision in 1857 was arguably the worst opinion that the Supreme Court of the United States has ever, ever handed down. With respect to the statutes, there are two statutes from my state, as all our States have statutes and the two from North Carolina are Zeb Vance and Charles Brantley Aycock. Charles Brentley Aycock was from the area where I live and this legislation would certainly require the removal of both of those.
G. K. Butterfield: (26:42)
Finally, the legislation would also require the removal of bust of John C. Breckinridge. That name may fall hollow on many. It fell hollow on me until a few days ago and I told Steny, “I spent a weekend doing a deep dive on Breckenridge to find out who this man was.” Breckinridge was a Kentuckian. He was-
G. K. Butterfield: (27:03)
Breckenridge was a Kentuckian. He was Vice President of the United States under president James Buchanan in the four years preceding the Civil War, from 1857 to 1861. He then served in the Senate, the US Senate during the outbreak of the Civil War, but he was expelled. Mind you, he was expelled from the United States Senate after he joined the Confederate Army. Breckenridge was given the rank of major general under General Braxton Bragg and was assigned to the Confederate Army of Mississippi. He was a combatant against the United States of America. Many history books refer to the war between the states. That was not a war between the states. It was a war against the United States of America.
G. K. Butterfield: (27:52)
But then President Jefferson Davis then appointed Breckenridge as Secretary of War for the Confederate States of America. Well, concluding that the war was hopeless and the war was winding down, Breckenridge urged Jeff Davis to arrange for surrender. And after the fall of Richmond, Breckenridge ensured the preservation of all of the Confederate records. And then you know what he did? He escaped the country. He left the United States of America and lived abroad for more than three years.
G. K. Butterfield: (28:25)
Ladies and gentlemen, when fair-minded Americans learn this history, I’m confident they will agree with us that removal is overdue. We must make the clear and unequivocal statement there is no room in this capitol for those who have perpetrated hate and division in the United States of America. I look forward to bipartisan cooperation from our Republican friends, and we are told that there will be a high level of cooperation today. And I hope and pray that that happens. I urge my colleagues to vote yes on the passage of HR7573. Thank you. I yield back to the majority leader.
Majority Leader Hoyer: (29:05)
Thank you very much, Justice [inaudible 00:02:10]. This is not a partisan issue. This is an issue about principles that America wants to lift up and display to the rest of the world. We have been, as so many presidents have said, a beacon. And that beacon has stood for justice and for liberty and fairness and equality. We know that we have not always lived those principles in this country. This day is about doing better, recognizing our faults, not honoring them and relegating them, yes, to history, but not to honor. Are there any questions?
Speaker 3: (29:59)
What does the timeline look like for possibly getting these statutes out? I know that Mr. Cliburn said that they should go to a museum, but there’s a whole process usually for removing statues.
Majority Leader Hoyer: (30:09)
Well, it will not be done immediately because there will be a convening of the organization, the committees that oversee the capitol once the legislation passes, and I hope it will pass in an overwhelmingly bipartisan fashion today and go to the Senate. There are bills in the Senate, the two Maryland senators have joined me on the [inaudible 00:30:32] bill. And then we have a broader coalition in the Senate as well. I’ve talked to Mr. Blunt about this. So I am hopeful with all due deliberate speed, as the phrase was, which was not very deliberate and was not very speedy. So we expect it to be much more quickly than that. But as quickly as the process will allow. Determination has to be made. Where will they be put? What is the proper place?
Majority Leader Hoyer: (31:04)
These statues are part of our history. We cannot deny our history. As a matter of fact, if we deny our history, it has been said we are condemned to relive our history. So we’ll have a process that needs to be pursued. I won’t want to put a timeframe on it, but I will urge, and I know that speaker Pelosi will urge, as quickly as possible.
Majority Leader Hoyer: (31:29)
Speaker 4: (31:31)
And not to get bogged down in detail. You mentioned Breckenridge. And I assume that means the bust in the Senate chamber. But there’s also John Tyler and he was actually president. So does this deal with John Tyler?
Majority Leader Hoyer: (31:47)
I don’t think that John Tyler is specifically mentioned in the statute. I’m almost positive of that. And we’ll look at that.
Speaker 4: (31:56)
Okay. Thank you.
Majority Leader Hoyer: (31:58)
And let me say something, that the key here, I think Jim Cliburn and Barbara and G. K. Butterfield would agree. This is not about perfection. This is not about any of us being perfect human beings. Our founders were not perfect human beings. They were extraordinary human beings and they created a union and articulated premises that are good premises today, even if we didn’t live them out. I will make sure we look at the issue of President Tyler. Yeah. One more.
Speaker 5: (32:46)
Sorry, one more. This is a little bit off topic, but a number of you mentioned representative John Lewis. I was wondering, is there any information on other ways that he might be honored other than the speeches that I know are going to be given tonight?
Majority Leader Hoyer: (33:00)
Can I first say something? It’s not off topic at all. This is what John Lewis’s life was all about. So it’s on topic. And if John were here, he would be speaking with us and to you about this effort. Now having said that, the Lewis family, as you know, C. T. Vivian was one of them, who was 15 years older than John, but one of the heroes. Jim worked with him very closely. He was with us in Montgomery and Birmingham on the pilgrimage several times. He was a giant. And because the Lewis family reflects the decency of John Lewis, they said, we want C. T. Vivian, who is a hero in his own right, to be recognized. And he will be laid to rest this Thursday. It will be then and only then that the Lewis family will inform us as to how they want to move forward. So I don’t have that information yet, but it will be coming, I think certainly by the end of the week. Thank you all very, very much.
Speaker 5: (34:17)
[inaudible 00:34:17] but of the statues that are not specifically identified [inaudible 00:07:45].
Speaker 4: (34:45)
Okay. Okay. He identified Breckenridge, but that’s not actually in the bill. My only question about Tyler was … He wasn’t sound, by the way. But he was elected to the Confederate [inaudible 00:34:55] I just wonder about that.
Speaker 5: (34:58)
Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. But the other ones not specifically identified, AOC would be responsible for identifying those specific [inaudible 00:35:06].
Speaker 4: (35:05)
Speaker 5: (35:06)
So I’ll make sure that [crosstalk 00:35:08] gets you that.
Speaker 4: (35:08)
Okay. I appreciate it. Thank you.
Speaker 5: (35:10)
[inaudible 00:35:10] Okay. Thanks. See you later.
G. K. Butterfield: (35:12)