U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson has withdrawn a proposal to replace Columbus Day with a federal holiday commemorating the end of slavery in the United States.
Johnson, R-Oshkosh, announced Friday that he and fellow Republican Sen. James Lankford, of Oklahoma, instead plan to introduce a proposal to reduce paid leave time for federal employees in order to offset the costs of a proposed Juneteenth holiday.
In a statement, Johnson said “many were not happy” with his original amendment to a bipartisan bill designating June 19 as an 11th federal holiday but that his intention was “to start a discussion.”
“Let me reiterate: I suggested Columbus Day for the swap because few Americans in the private sector get it as a paid holiday, and as a result, it is lightly celebrated, and would not be disruptive to most Americans’ schedules,” Johnson said.
“I was in no way deprecating Christopher Columbus’ achievements or expressing any value judgment regarding his place in history. As I stated in an interview with the Milwaukee Press Club last Friday, I do not support efforts to erase America’s rich history — not the good, the bad or the ugly.”
The amendment was met with scorn from conservative commentators, including Fox News’ Tucker Carlson, who accused Johnson and Lankford of trying to delete “a celebration of the nation itself” before “moving on to the next item on the rioters’ list of demands.”
While protesters in recent weeks have pulled down statues of Columbus, including one outside the Minnesota Capitol, there has long been a push to replace the holiday with a recognition of the cultural contributions of native people killed and displaced by European colonists.
Johnson said he appreciates the value of commemorating emancipation, but objected to the estimated $600 million cost of an additional federal holiday, which he said would be offset by his new proposal.
Johnson’s office did not say how much the amendment would reduce paid leave for federal workers.
The Juneteenth bill, which has 51 sponsors in the Senate, was introduced after weeks of protests in Madison and nationwide in response to the death of George Floyd while in Minneapolis police custody.
Juneteenth — a celebration marking the day in 1865 that Union troops arrived in Texas to announce the end of the Civil War and tell enslaved people they were free — is formally recognized in 47 states, with Wisconsin first recognizing the day in 2009.