Lankford-Backed Plan to Cover Costs of Making Juneteenth a Federal Holiday Withdrawn

Jul 6, 2020

Sen. James Lankford speaks at a 2018 Tulsa Regional Chamber forum.
Credit Matt Trotter / KWGS

A plan to swap Columbus Day for Juneteenth as a federal holiday backed by Oklahoma U.S. Sen. James Lankford has been withdrawn.

While the Senate still supports a bill to make Juneteenth a federal holiday, Wisconsin Republican Sen. Ron Johnson withdrew an amendment to eliminate Columbus Day as a way to cover the cost of giving federal workers paid time off or overtime for the new Juneteenth holiday.

Lankford said the plan would have saved $600 million and notes less than half of states still officially celebrate Columbus Day.

"Now, that used to be conservative, but now I’m having conservatives attacking me because I want to save $600 million. It’s not erasing the day of Columbus Day and not trying to take that away, it’s trying to say, ‘Can we do this in another way to actually solve this?’" Lankford said.

Conservative commentators accused Lankford and Johnson of trying to erase history and appease rioters.

Lankford said he’s gotten some pushback from the public about his support for the Juneteenth holiday proposal as well.

"I’ve had a few people that called me that said, ‘Those people don’t need another holiday,’ and I think I know what you mean by ‘those people.’ I’m just going to tell you, if you’re a person that’s calling me, saying, ‘Those people don’t need another holiday,’ you and I are just going to disagree because I don’t see ‘those people.’ I see fellow Oklahomans, and I see fellow Americans," Lankford said.

Juneteenth celebrates the end of slavery in the U.S.. specifically commemorating word of the Emancipation Proclamation reaching Texas in 1865.