The Real Reason Sen. Johnson Wants to Replace Columbus Day With Juneteenth as a Federal Holiday

The Real Reason Sen. Johnson Wants to Replace Columbus Day With Juneteenth as a Federal Holiday


By Jonathon Sadowski

July 2, 2020

GOP Senator joins bipartisan calls to federally recognize Juneteenth, but there’s a catch.

Republican Sen. Ron Johnson on Wednesday joined bipartisan calls to make Juneteenth a federal holiday, but went a step further in proposing that Columbus Day be removed from the federal slate as a cost-cutting measure.

“We support celebrating emancipation with a federal holiday, but believe we should eliminate a current holiday in exchange,” Johnson wrote in a series of tweets. “We chose Columbus Day as a holiday that is lightly celebrated.”

A bill to make Juneteenth, the holiday that celebrates the emancipation of the nation’s final slaves, a federal holiday currently has 52 co-sponsors in the Senate, including 16 Republicans.

Johnson, a staunch fiscal conservative, is not among those Republicans and said he does not want to inflate the federal holiday budget. He introduced the amendment to eliminate Columbus Day alongside GOP Sen. James Lankford of Oklahoma.

The Senators’ proposal does not come from an angle of social justice. Many Native Americans have spoken against Columbus Day for decades, instead supporting Indigenous Peoples’ Day, on the grounds that Christopher Columbus — the Italian explorer widely and wrongfully credited with discovering America — in fact enslaved and murdered thousands of native people

Gov. Tony Evers made Indigenous Peoples’ Day a Wisconsin holiday last year and flew the Juneteenth flag over the Capitol for the first time ever this year.

Johnson said in his tweets that he still wants to honor Columbus and stressed that his reasoning for nixing Columbus Day was solely a fiscal decision.

“My sole motivation for offering this amendment to the Juneteenth bill is to prevent giving federal workers another paid holiday and incurring the additional cost,” Johnson continued. “It is not deprecating Christopher Columbus’ achievements or expressing any value judgement regarding his place in history. I do not support efforts to erase America’s rich history — not the good, the bad, or the ugly.”

Still, retribution was swift from the right wing. Tucker Carlson, the Fox News host beloved by white supremacists nationwide, whipped up outrage Wednesday on his show, painting the calls to eliminate Columbus Day as a fundamental threat to the United States. 

He mocked Johnson and Lankford, calling them “suddenly woke Republican senator friends” who are engaging in “acts of revolution and cultural desecration.”

“They describe themselves as conservatives, improbable as that may be,” Carlson ranted. “On some level they may suspect that all the yelling about Columbus Day and Juneteenth doesn’t really have much to do with emancipation or civil rights. More likely, it’s just another way to humiliate and demoralize Americans.”


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