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Republican senators argue over making Juneteenth a federal holiday; consider replacing Columbus Day

Crucial issues

Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), left, and Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) speak at the White House. (Photo by Michael Reynolds - Pool/Getty Images)

Republican senators are locked in a debate over holidays. Specifically, whether Juneteenth should become a federal holiday, and if it does, whether it should replace Columbus Day, The Hill reported.

What's going on here? Texas Republican Sen. John Cornyn introduced a bill that would make Juneteenth a federal holiday. Juneteenth, which originated in Texas and is celebrated most widely in that state, commemorates the end of slavery in the United States.

The holiday, June 19, gained unusual national attention this year as it fell in the midst of severe racial unrest. It was further highlighted by a controversy surrounding President Donald Trump's decision to schedule a campaign rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma, on that date. The president later moved the rally back one day.

Cornyn's bill has bipartisan support, with Democratic co-sponsors including Sens. Kamala Harris (Calif.), Cory Booker (N.J.), and Ed Markey (Mass.), as well as a number of Republicans.

What's the debate? Cornyn and others want to make Juneteenth a federal holiday. Cornyn hoped the bill would be agreed upon by his GOP colleagues, moved to the floor, and approved by unanimous consent or voice vote.

But Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) doesn't want to add another paid federal day off due to budget concerns.

"[I'm] happy to celebrate the emancipation with a national holiday but I just don't think we should be, when we're already blowing a hole in the budget right now, offering another paid day off for federal employees," Johnson said.

So Johnson proposed replacing another federal holiday. He selected Columbus Day, because it's "probably the most lightly celebrated and less disruptive to anybody's schedule."

Cornyn called the suggestion "problematic" because he doesn't want his bill to offend people, particularly Italian-Americans who celebrate the holiday. He fears that making such a switch "dilutes the message we're trying to send, which is one of being respectful and honoring and remembering our history."

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