Texas Republicans Divided in House Vote to Remove Confederate Statues from U.S. Capitol

After nearly two months of civic unrest and riots over the killing of George Floyd, the U.S. House voted to remove statues of Confederate figures in the Capitol.
July 24, 2020
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This week, the House of Representatives approved a bill to remove statues of Confederate figures from the U.S. Capitol grounds.

Across the nation, a growing movement of iconoclasm mixed with street justice has led to numerous statues being defaced or even outright destroyed.

While many have focused on effigies of Confederate figures, others have targeted the likes of abolitionists Matthias Baldwin and Hans Christian Heg, and even of former president Thomas Jefferson.

Within the Capitol lies the National Statuary Hall, sandwiched between the rotunda and the House chamber, in which crowds of visitors are encircled by a portion of the 102 total statues in the collection of figures from American history. Two from each state — along with Frederick Douglass, donated by the District of Columbia, and Rosa Parks — the sculptures were donated from their respective legislatures.

“Each statue is the gift of a state, not of an individual or group of citizens,” reads the Capitol Architect’s website. 

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“Proceedings for the donation of a statue usually begin in the state legislature with the enactment of a resolution that names the citizen to be commemorated and cites his or her qualifications, specifies a committee or commission to represent the state in selecting the sculptor, and provides for a method of obtaining the necessary funds to carry the resolution into effect.”

On National Statuary Hall, the U.S. code reads: “[T]he President is authorized to invite all the States to provide and furnish statues, in marble or bronze, not exceeding two in number for each State, of deceased persons who have been citizens thereof, and illustrious for their historic renown or for distinguished civic or military services, such as each State may deem to be worthy of this national commemoration.”

They include figures such as Helen Keller, Junipero Serra, Thomas Edison, and Sam Houston. But the collection also features figures such as Jefferson Davis and Alexander Hamilton Stephens, the first president and vice president of the Confederate States of America, and Robert E. Lee, the commander of the Confederate Army.

In 1933, Statuary Hall became too congested with the growing number of statues and so the collection was spread out between five other additional areas of the Capitol.

In all, 11 statues of Confederate figures, along with the bust of former Supreme Court Chief Justice Roger B. Taney, who authored the Dred Scott v. Sanford decision, would be removed from the Capitol.

The statues’ respective home states would then be asked to commission a new statue to replace the expelled ones. And Taney’s bust would be replaced by one of Thurgood Marshall, the first black Supreme Court Justice.

Texas’ Congressional Democrats were united in support for the bill. But Texas Republicans were split with Reps. Dan Crenshaw (R-TX-02), Van Taylor (R-TX-03), Michael McCaul (R-TX-10), Pete Olson (R-TX-22), Will Hurd (R-TX-23), and Michael Burgess (R-TX-26) all voting for removal.

Those in opposition were: Reps. Louie Gohmert (R-TX-01), Lance Gooden (R-TX-05), Ron Wright (R-TX-06), Kevin Brady (R-TX-08), Mike Conaway (R-TX-11), Kay Granger (R-TX-12), Mac Thornberry (R-TX-13), Randy Weber (R-TX-14), Bill Flores (R-TX-17), Jodey Arrington (R-TX-19), Chip Roy (R-TX-21), Roger Williams (R-TX-25), Michael Cloud (R-TX-27), John Carter (R-TX-31), and Brian Babin (R-TX-36).

Like most issues in politics, there are multiple points of view, regardless of a block of legislators’ votes, on whether and how to remove these statues.

In a floor speech on the bill, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) stated, “For too long, we have greeted visitors from here and abroad with statues of those who denigrated these values by championing sedition, slavery, segregation, and inequality.”

“Removing a statue does not erase history. That act by itself will not make right what was so terribly wrong in the past. But the statues we choose to set in places of honor are a reflection of the present, not the past,” he continued.

Among the Republicans, there is more variety.

Providing his own twist on the basic premise of Hoyer’s remarks, Rep. Will Hurd tweeted, “Confederate statues don’t belong in the U.S. Capitol. Anyone committing treason against this great experiment we call America in order to keep slavery alive doesn’t deserve a place in a building that represents freedom and unity.”

Rep. Crenshaw, meanwhile, took a more partisan position in his support for the bill. He told The Texan, “Republicans won the civil war. That’s our history. Democrats have a long list of segregationists and KKK members. That’s their history. I’m glad to help them confront that racist past and voted to remove these Democrat statues from positions of prominence.”

Crenshaw further emphasized that nine of the 11 statues to be removed were affiliated with the Democratic Party.

In a similar tone and in tandem with this resolution, Rep. Gohmert offered his own privileged resolution calling for Congress to ban any political party that supported slavery.

He said, “As outlined in the [Confederate statue removal bill], a great portion of the history of the Democratic Party is filled with racism and hatred.”

“To avoid triggering innocent bystanders by the racist past of the Democratic Party, I would suggest they change their name. That is the standard to which they are holding everyone else, so the name change needs to occur,” he concluded.

Those in opposition hold a couple of different concerns. The first is the declaratory nature of the resolution. Rather than work with the particular state to replace a given statue, Congress is issuing a unilateral decree. 

Such a voluntary change by states is not unheard of. Arkansas is replacing its two statues of Uriah Milton Rose and James Paul Clarke with civil rights figure Daisy Gatson Bates and musician Johnny Cash.

Rep. Wright told The Texan he opposed the motion on two grounds. The first is that current statute leaves such discretion to the respective states, and whom they “may deem to be worthy” to honor with national recognition.

“The way this was done was horrible. Up until now, there were no congressional qualifications but that’s no longer the case since this sets a congressional disqualification,” he emphasized.

Secondly, Wright is worried about the precedent it sets. 

He added, “This invites any radical group to demand that a statue be removed if it’s someone they disagree with on policy or who has made past mistakes. It will not stop with Confederate statues. Where does it end? The answer is, it doesn’t.”

The question is a fair one since other Capitol statues feature individuals against whom some public opposition is mounting. The father of this nation, George Washington, and father of Texas, Stephen F. Austin, both held views of slavery opposite of the country’s today.

Regardless, Wright and other Republicans stress that is a decision that should be left up to the states from whom they were commissioned.

But while the vote in the House was one-sided, average Americans are divided on the general issue of Confederate statue removal.

A June Quinnipiac poll found that voters across America support removing the statues from public spaces by a 52:44 margin. But a June Harvard poll showed the opposite, that voters oppose removal 58 percent to 42 percent.

In Texas, specifically, the July Quinnipiac poll which showed former Vice President Joe Biden up one vote on President Donald Trump also found that 52 percent of Texas voters oppose removing the Confederate statues from public spaces compared to those 39 percent in support.

A UT-Tyler poll this month found a closer outcome with 43 percent opposed and 38 percent supportive.

The polling nationwide is not as clear cut as some suggest, and Texas itself remains hesitant, at best, on the question.

Related, the Harvard poll also illustrated stark disapproval from Americans of the extralegal destruction of Confederate monuments by a crowd.

It is not just a question of whether the Confederate statues should be removed — something Americans, and Texans, are divided on to varying degrees — but how they are removed. Congress is acting in a manner divergent from the mob-style justice being countenanced in various cities across the country.

But the question still remains about the state legislature’s role in the statue removal, since the effigies are state property to begin with. 

It is unclear how the Senate will approach the resolution — a source close to the situation indicated Majority Leader McConnell (R-KY) is hesitant to even bring it to the floor — or whether the president will sign it should the bill arrive on his desk.

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Brad Johnson

Brad Johnson

Brad Johnson is an Ohio native who graduated from the University of Cincinnati in 2017. He is an avid sports fan who most enjoys watching his favorite teams continue their title drought throughout his cognizant lifetime. In his free time, you may find Brad watching and quoting Monty Python productions.

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