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Johnson’s Columbus Day kerfuffle

Empower Wisconsin | July 6, 2020

By M.D. Kittle 

MADISON  — In 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue. 

In July 2020, U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson was skewered by his fellow conservatives after he proposed a substitute amendment ostensibly crafted to swap Columbus Day for Juneteenth on the crowded list of federal holidays. 

What was missing in the rash coverage and the hyperbolic response, Johnson told Vicki McKenna last week on her Madison talk show, is the fact that the Oshkosh Republican was trying to slow down a fast-moving Senate vote that would have cost taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars a year the federal government doesn’t have. 

“What senators wanted to do was run this through the hotlines and pass it by unanimous consent, not even vote on it,” Johnson said. “Not even debate it, don’t discuss it. Just create a new holiday that will cost federal taxpayers $600 million (a year) in perpetuity.” More money piled on to the $22.6 trillion U,S.debt.

Johnson said he’s not opposed to Juneteenth, that it’s certainly right to celebrate the emancipation of slavery. But federal employees already receive 10 paid federal holidays, including a lot of holidays most Americans in the private sector don’t get. 

He said he had just a few minutes to pick a holiday for the amendment, with the ultimate idea of holding up the vote. Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) signed on. 

The plan worked. They stalled the vote, but they earned the ire of conservatives who thought the senators were caving into the Cancel Culture to knock out another symbol the radical left finds offensive. That wasn’t their intent, Johnson said. He picked Columbus Day because most Americans — other than the approximately 2 million federal workers — don’t get the day off, and certainly not as a paid holiday. 

On Friday, Johnson and Lankford withdrew their substitute amendment, and Wisconsin’s senior senator announced he would introduce a modified substitute amendment to “achieve the same goal should the Senate decide to celebrate Juneteenth Day by giving federal employees another paid day off.”

Instead of eliminating a current holiday to make room for Juneteenth Day, Johnson said he would propose reducing the number of paid leave days federal employees receive, to offset the cost of the new holiday celebrating emancipation. 

“Although the substitute amendment I offered to the Juneteenth holiday bill had the desired effect of slowing down the passage of a new paid day off for federal workers, many were not happy with the proposal to swap a holiday celebrating emancipation with Columbus Day,” Johnson said in a press release, explaining his modified proposal.

He reiterated that he was in no way deprecating Christopher Columbus’ achievements or “expressing a value judgment” regarding the explorer’s place in history. 

“As I stated in an interview with the Milwaukee Press Club last Friday, I do not support efforts to erase America’s rich history — not the good, the bad or the ugly,” Johnson said. 

Listen to Vicki McKenna’s interview with Sen. Ron Johnson here. 

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