A handful of Democratic members of Congress, including House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, are calling for the removal of Confederate statues from the US Capitol building following the deadly white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia.
“The Confederate statues in the halls of Congress have always been reprehensible,"
Pelosi said in a statement Thursday. "If Republicans are serious about rejecting white supremacy, I call upon Speaker Ryan to join Democrats to remove the Confederate statues from the Capitol immediately."
Pelosi asked House Speaker Paul Ryan to join Democrats in supporting legislation to remove the statues.
Ryan's office deferred to the states, which are each allowed to place two statues of their choosing in the Capitol. “These are decisions for those states to make,” said Doug Andres, a spokesperson for Ryan.
At least one Republican reportedly supports relocating the statues. Florida Rep. Tom Rooney told The Hill he doesn't want to erase history; rather, he wants to properly contextualize the statues as representative of slavery, and perhaps move them to "a museum or on a battlefield or something like that."
“When they’re in the Capitol, they’re almost in a place of reverence," he said. "And I don’t think that we should revere what those guys stood for. I think the right side won the war."
Under current law, states, not Congress, make their own decisions about what statues they place in the US Capitol, with approval from the Joint Committee on the Library of Congress, which oversees the Capitol's National Statuary Hall collection. The Architect of the Capitol (AOC) is then "responsible for the placement and care of the statues." A 2000 law allows states to request that a statue be replaced if approved by the state legislature and governor, and if the statue has been on display for a minimum of 10 years. The 10-year requirement can be waived by the committee if there's cause, the AOC said in a statement to BuzzFeed News.
Congress could pass legislation to change those rules, however. New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker announced Wednesday that he also plans to introduce legislation in the Senate to remove the statues. Congress currently sits in recess and will return after Labor Day.
The white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, which ended in the death of 32-year-old anti-racism protester Heather Heyer, began as a protest of the removal of a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee from the city's downtown. Statues of Lee and other Confederate figures, such as Mississippi's Jefferson Davis and Georgia's Alexander Hamilton Stephens (the president and vice president of the Confederacy, respectively) remain in the Capitol.
President Donald Trump, who has been widely criticized for his response to Charlottesville, went on a Twitter rant Thursday morning bemoaning the removal of Confederate statues in different parts of the country.
Mississippi Rep. Bennie Thompson, a member of the Congressional Black Caucus, has also said he wants Congress to work "to ensure the permanent removal of all offensive and despicable Confederate imagery."
"Confederate memorabilia have no place in this country and especially not in the United States Capitol," Thompson said in a statement this week. "These images symbolize a time of racial discrimination and segregation that continues to haunt this country and many African-Americans who still to this day face racism and bigotry.”
When asked whether the Congressional Black Caucus as a group supports removing the statues, a spokesperson for chairman Cedric Richmond pointed to his comments to ABC News this week, in which he said he wants to reexamine their place in the Capitol. "We will never solve America's race problem if we continue to honor traitors who fought against the United States in order to keep African Americans in chains. By the way, thank god, they lost," Richmond said.
Pelosi, who was House Speaker for four years, argued that Democrats "relocated Robert E. Lee out of a place of honor in National Statuary Hall" during her tenure and replaced it with a statue of Rosa Parks.
In 2015, the House removed a display of state flags in response to controversy over Confederate imagery on some of them.
Lissandra Villa contributed reporting.