The statues represent soldiers and officers who served in the Confederate Army, which lost in the U.S. Civil War. They include statues of Jefferson Davis and Alexander Stephens, who were president and vice president of the Confederacy.
Pelosi, in a letter (pdf) to Joint Committee on the Library Chairman Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) and Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), the committee’s vice chairwoman, says statues in the Capitol “should embody our highest ideals as Americans, expressing who we are and who we aspire to be as a nation.”
“Monuments to men who advocated cruelty and barbarism to achieve such a plainly racist end are a grotesque affront to these ideals. Their statues pay homage to hate, not heritage. They must be removed,” she said.
“While I believe it is imperative that we never forget our history, lest we repeat it, I also believe that there is no room for celebrating the violent bigotry of the men of the Confederacy in the hallowed halls of the United States Capitol or in places of honor across the country.”
The joint committee should direct Architect of the Capitol J. Brett Blanton to immediately take steps to remove the statues, she said.
One hundred statues, two from each state, are in the National Statuary Hall Collection, displayed in the hall and throughout the Capitol.
Lofgren said in a statement that she agrees with Pelosi that the statues should be quickly removed, asserting that the Capitol “belongs to the American people and cannot serve as a place of honor for the hatred and racism that tears at the fabric of our nation, the very poison that these statues embody.”
Blunt said in a statement that it’s not up to the committee he heads or Blanton to decide which statues are in the Capitol.
“Under the law, each state decides which two statues it will send to the Capitol. Several states have moved toward replacing statues, and others appear headed in the same direction,” he said.
“This process is ongoing and encouraging. As Speaker Pelosi is undoubtedly aware, the law does not permit the architect of the Capitol or the Joint Committee of Congress on the Library to remove a statue from the Capitol once it has been received.”
States have been allowed to replace statues donated to the collection since 2000 through a request in writing after a statue has been displayed for at least 10 years, according to Blanton’s office (pdf). The request must be approved by the Joint Committee, which can waive the time requirement if a state requests.
Subjects of statues must be a dead person who was a U.S. citizen and “is illustrious for historic renown or for distinguished civic or military services.”
Blunt told reporters in Washington that at least three or four new statues are being processed now, including one from Missouri, which is replacing a statue of Thomas Hart Benton, a slaveholder, with a statue of Harry Truman.
“My view would be unless there’s specific congressional action that voids the agreements with the states, that the states appear to be headed in this path anyway, and that’s the better way to deal with it,” he said.