The House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed legislation Wednesday to establish Juneteenth National Independence Day, a federal holiday to commemorate the end of slavery in the United States.
The bill recognizes June 19, 1865, the day when Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger led soldiers to Galveston, Texas to deliver the message that the Union had won the war and the ending of slavery would be enforced.
While the Senate voted unanimously in favor of the holiday, 14 House members — all Republicans — voted against the bill, many citing concerns over the name of the holiday and whether it conflates with the July 4th holiday.
Those 14 House members are:
Alabama Rep. Mo Brooks
Alabama Rep. Mike Rogers
Arizona Rep. Andy Biggs
Arizona Rep. Paul Gosar
California Rep. Tom McClintock
California Rep Doug LaMalfa
Georgia Rep. Andrew Clyde
Kentucky Rep. Thomas Massie
Montana Rep. Matt Rosendale,
South Carolina Rep. Ralph Norman
Tennessee Rep. Scott DesJarlais
Texas Rep. Ronny Jackson
Texas Rep. Chip Roy
Wisconsin Rep. Tom Tiffany.
“I fully support creating a day to celebrate the abolition of slavery, a dark portion of our nation’s history,” Massie said on the House floor Wednesday. “However, naming this day ‘National Independence Day’ will create confusion and push Americans to pick one of those two days as their independence day based on their racial identity.”
He added: “Why can’t we name this Emancipation Day, and come together as Americans, and celebrate that day together as Americans: black and white, all colors, all races, all ethnicities, and then come together on Independence Day, which celebrates the creation of our country throwing off an oppressive government.”
Rep. Brenda Lawrence, D-Mich., reacted to that argument on the floor, saying, “I want to say to my white colleagues on the other side: Getting your independence from being enslaved in a country is different from a country getting independence to rule themselves.”
Rep. Chip Roy argued the legislation should have gone through a House committee and that there should have been a larger debate over the naming of the holiday.
“I believe it’s been often referred to in our history as ‘Jubilee Day,’ as ‘Emancipation Day,’ as ‘Freedom Day’ — I would be amenable to any of those names,” Roy said on the floor Wednesday. “I don’t believe that the title ‘National Independence Day’ works, and I would prefer that we just have a debate on that.”
Rep. Ralph Norman posted a thread on Twitter also critiquing the naming of the holiday. He also wrote that he’s concerned the federal holiday will “cost the federal government over a billion dollars.”
“Our Independence Day is July 4th. Period. Independence Day celebrates the anniversary of our declared independence from Great Britain, and it’s been that way for 245 years,” Norman wrote. “If you want to call Juneteenth, for example, Freedom Day or Emancipation Day then fine — that’s certainly worth considering. But calling it Independence Day is WHOLLY INAPPROPIATE.”
Other Republican congressmen claimed the holiday is divisive.
“I voted no because this proposed holiday does not bring us together, it tears us apart,” Arizona Rep. Paul Gosar said in a statement following the vote. “I cannot support efforts that furthers racial divisions in this country. We have one Independence Day, and it applies equally to all people of all races.”
He did not expand on how a federal holiday commemorating the ending of slavery promotes racial divisions.
Montana Rep. Matt Rosendale echoed that sentiment, claiming the holiday 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.”
Republicans have been using the term “critical race theory” as a shorthand for any conversations on race, racism and anti-racism, which some political strategists say could be used to rally the conservative base as a culture war issue ahead of next year’s midterm elections.
President Biden plans to sign the bill into law Thursday afternoon.