Speaker Pelosi wants Confederate statues in Capitol removed

She's pushing for the removal of eleven Confederate statues.

June 10, 2020, 5:03 PM

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., on Wednesday called for the removal of nearly a dozen Confederate statues from the halls of Congress, throwing her weight behind efforts to take down the figures linked to racism and the Confederacy following the death of George Floyd.

In a new letter to the Joint Committee on the Library, a House-Senate panel that manages the National Statuary Hall Collection, Pelosi asked Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., and Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., to direct the Architect of the Capitol to "immediately" start removing 11 statues of men associated with the Confederacy from display in the Capitol complex.

"While I believe it is imperative that we never forget our history lest we repeat it, I also believe that there is no room for celebrating the violent bigotry of the men of the Confederacy in the hallowed halls of the United States Capitol or places of honor across the country," Pelosi said in the letter obtained exclusively by ABC News.

PHOTO: A tour guide talks about the Statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee that is located inside the Capitol, Aug.17, 2017, in Washington, DC.
A tour guide talks about the Statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee that is located inside the Capitol, Aug.17, 2017, in Washington, DC.
Mark Wilson/Getty Images

Pelosi's request comes as Democrats plan to introduce a bill that would take down the statues in the Capitol -- sending them to the states that commissioned them, or to the Smithsonian -- and could yield the same result significantly faster.

"Especially at this time in the nation's history, when the country is galvanized by the killing of George Floyd and riveted by tens of thousands of Americans peacefully demonstrating against institutional racism, to have statues of Confederates in Statuary Hall is really at odds with who we are as a country and what we aspire to be," Lofgren, the vice chair of the Joint Committee on the Library and chair of the House Administration Committee, told ABC News.

In 2017, when Democrats were in the House minority, she supported unsuccessful efforts to take down the statues in 2017, after a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, left one woman dead and more than a dozen people injured.

During her first term as speaker, from 2007 to 2011, Democrats moved a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee to the Capitol Crypt and out of Statuary Hall, just steps from the House chamber, as part of a reshuffling of the collection authorized by Congress.

PHOTO: Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) listens during a hearing on Capitol Hill of the House Judiciary committee, June 10, 2020, in Washington, DC.
Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) listens during a hearing on Capitol Hill of the House Judiciary committee about policing practices and law enforcement accountability prompted by the death of George Floyd while in police custody June 10, 2020, in Washington, DC.
Brendan Smialowski/POOL/AFP via Getty Images

Today, a statue of civil rights icon Rosa Parks stands in its place.

"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 on Wednesday. "Monuments to men who advocated cruelty and barbarism to achieve such a plainly racist end are a grotesque affront to these ideals."

The Confederate statues are displayed across the Capitol. Five figures, including statues of Jefferson Davis and Alexander Stephens, the president and vice president of the Confederacy, are on display in Statuary Hall, on the House side of the Capitol. The other six Confederate statues stand in parts of the complex shared by both chambers.

Each state sends two statues to the collection on Capitol Hill, and can vote in their legislatures to replace them.

Blunt, the chairman of the Senate Rules Committee currently leading the Joint Committee on the Library, said the issue of taking down or replacing the statues should be left to each individual state.

"I think the best way for that to happen would be for the states to take them back, if that's what they want to do," he said on Wednesday ahead of Pelosi's letter.

He noted that his own state legislature passed a measure in 2019 to replace their statue of former Sen. Thomas Hart Benton with former President Harry Truman.

"There's a process for this, and I think it's working," he said.

President Donald Trump, who dismissed efforts to take down Confederate statues in 2017, rejected talk among senior Pentagon officials on Wednesday of potentially renaming 10 Army bases named for Confederate leaders, proclaiming on Twitter that "my Administration will not even consider the renaming of these Magnificent and Fabled Military Installations."

“To suggest that these forts were somehow inherently racist and their names need to be changed is a complete disrespect to the men and women who the last bit of American land they saw before they went overseas and lost their lives were these forts,” White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said Wednesday in a press briefing.

Cities and states across the country, from Virginia to Florida, have already removed or started to take down Confederate statues and monuments. In Europe, statues linked to the slave trade and racism have also been taken down amid protests following Floyd’s death in police custody.

Read House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's letter:

ABC News' Allison Pecorin contributed to this report.

Related Topics