GOP lawmakers who voted ‘no’ on new ‘Independence’ holiday say the name is divisive political ploy

Fourteen Republicans voted against making Juneteenth a federal holiday on Wednesday, but not because they don’t favor recognizing when all American slaves were finally free, according to several who spoke out against it.

Rather, the GOP lawmakers explained that their decision had nothing to do with racism — but everything to do with race.

Juneteenth is a reference to June 19, 1865, when Union Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger told a remaining enclave of enslaved blacks in Galveston, Texas, that they had been freed by President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation more than two years earlier, on Jan. 1, 1863.

In their objections, some of the GOP lawmakers said they were simply opposed to calling the new holiday the “Juneteenth National Independence Day” because they don’t want Americans to confuse it with the nation’s July 4 Independence Day holiday. In addition, they suggested it would not be conducive to unity for Americans to chose which day of independence they want to observe based entirely on skin color.

“I fully support creating a day to celebrate the abolition of slavery,” Massie said while debating the bill on the House floor. “However, naming this day National Independence Day will create confusion and push Americans to pick one of those two days.”

He added that the intent behind the measure appeared to be another effort by the Democrat left to push an agenda of “identity politics.” He also argued that the holiday would be better named, “Emancipation Day.”

Rep. Matt Rosendale of Montana, the state’s sole House member, agreed.

“Let’s call an ace an ace,” he said Wednesday. ‘This is an effort by the left to create a day out of whole cloth to celebrate identity politics as part of its larger efforts to make ‘critical race theory’ the reigning ideology of our country.

“Since I believe in treating everyone equally, regardless of race, and that we should be focused on what unites us rather than our differences, I will vote no,” he added.

Rep. Chip Roy of Texas backed Massie’s suggestion that the occasion should be called “Emancipation Day,” though he also backed other names such as “Freedom Day” after agreeing that the observance was important.

“It’s been referred to in our history as Jubilee Day, Emancipation Day, Freedom Day. I would be amenable to any of those names. I don’t believe that the title National Independence Day, I think, works,” he said.

Roy went on to lament the fact that Democrats simply brought the measure to the floor for a vote, without first running it through a committee where such debates and concerns are aired and compromises sought. That said, Roy, in his floor comments, added that the House never “amends” legislation anymore in the first place, hinting at the bitter partisanship within the chamber.

Another Texan, freshman Rep. Ronny Jackson, the former White House physician, said he opposed the name because the country already has enough “national” holidays.

Meanwhile, Rep. Clay Higgins of Louisiana offered up “National Emancipation Day,” but ultimately his and the other GOP lawmakers’ suggestions were rejected.

Currently, most states already either recognize Juneteenth as a holiday or a day of official observance.

President Joe Biden is expected to sign the legislation Thursday, making Juneteenth the 12th federal holiday and the first new one in nearly four decades.

“Juneteenth is as significant to African Americans as it will be to Americans because we too are Americans, and it means freedom,” Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas) said Wednesday, going on to refer to slavery as “America’s original sin.”

Jon Dougherty

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