A proposal to trade the Columbus Day federal holiday for one on Juneteenth was spurred by fears that the latter would be approved by the Senate as a federal holiday with no debate, Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) told The Epoch Times.
“I didn’t want an 11th day for government workers to get paid and the rest of America having to pick up that $600 million price tag when we’re $26.2 trillion dollars in debt, about 17.8 million Americans currently unemployed,” Johnson said on July 7, describing his proposal as being “mischaracterized” in some reports.
Johnson and Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) introduced an amendment last week to legislation (pdf) introduced by Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) and supported by dozens of other senators to make Juneteenth, or June 19, a federal holiday.
The amendment from Johnson and Lankford would remove Columbus Day as a federal holiday as Juneteenth became one, effectively keeping the number of federal holidays at 10.
Aides had informed Johnson that there were plans to ask for unanimous consent for Cornyn’s legislation.
Unanimous consent means a bill can be blocked by a single senator but will pass with no recorded vote if no senators object.
“I thought it was a rather unappealing prospect to go down to the floor of the Senate and say ‘I object to the emancipation of slaves,'” Johnson told The Epoch Times.
“I wanted an alternative, but I had to come up with one fast. I didn’t have time for complexity. We had to get something filed fast, because we thought somebody might go on the floor literally in the next couple of hours.”
The most logical paid holiday to swap with was Columbus Day because most people who aren’t federal government workers work on that day, the senator argued. Only 21 states recognize Columbus Day as a paid holiday.
“This has been blown up into something that it wasn’t,” Johnson said. “And I understand the sensitivity of the times, and I am just really trying to correct the record, so people realized, no, I wasn’t caving or pandering to the mob. I didn’t join the mob. I’m opposed to the mob.
“I don’t regret having done this, because we have slowed the process down. Had I not done this, the bill creating an 11th paid holiday for federal employees would probably be sitting on President Trump’s desk as we speak.”
The proposed swap was withdrawn on July 3 as the Senate adjourned until July 20.
Johnson’s office is working on a modified amendment that will propose swapping a generic paid day off for Juneteenth.
“We won’t eliminate a paid holiday, but we’ll eliminate another one of federal government workers generous paid leave days,” Johnson said.
The bill hasn’t been written yet because it’s more complex than simply swapping one paid holiday for another.
When the Senate returns, Cornyn’s bill may be brought to the floor for unanimous consent.
“Now I’ll have an alternative that hopefully won’t be criticized by the right, because I’d be removing just a generic day of leave, paid leave for federal workers,” Johnson said.