House Speaker Nancy Pelosi sent a letter to the leaders of the Joint Committee on the Library on Wednesday requesting that they take action to remove 11 statues of Confederate soldiers and officials from the U.S. Capitol. There are currently statues of Confederacy President Jefferson Davis and Vice President Alexander Stephens on display in the Capitol, despite both men being charged with treason.
In her letter to Committee Chair Roy Blunt, a Republican senator, and Vice Chair Zoe Lofgren, a Democratic congresswoman, Pelosi noted that Stephens had said in a speech that the "cornerstone" of the Confederacy was based on slavery.
"As I have said before, the halls of Congress are the very heart of our democracy. The statues in the Capitol should embody our highest ideals as Americans, expressing who we are and who we aspire to be as a nation," Pelosi said in her letter. "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."
Pelosi asked Lofgren and Blunt to "direct the Architect of the Capitol to immediately take steps to remove these 11 statues from display in the United States Capitol."
"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," Pelosi said. In a statement, Lofgren said that she agreed the statues should be removed.
However, Blunt said in a statement that neither his committee nor the Architect of the Capitol had the authority to remove these statues, as each state provides two statues for 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. This process is ongoing and encouraging," Blunt said. "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."
Pelosi's letter comes as protests over racial violence have roiled the country in recent weeks. Many protesters have demanded that municipalities remove statues of Confederate officials. Earlier this month, several Confederate statues across Alabama were taken down or vandalized. In Richmond, Virginia, protesters took down the statue of Confederate General Williams Carter Wickham.
President Trump announced in a series of tweets Wednesday that he would not consider renaming military bases which had been named after Confederate officials. Mr. Trump said the 10 Army posts bearing the names of Confederate generals "have become part of a Great American Heritage, and a history of Winning, Victory, and Freedom."
An Army spokesperson said top Pentagon officials were open to discussions about renaming the bases earlier this week. Congresswoman Yvette Clark has introduced legislation requiring all military installations named after Confederate leaders to be renamed within one year.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Navy announced Tuesday that it is working on an order to ban the display of the Confederate flag, less than a week after the Marine Corps issued its directive to do so. Nascar also announced on Wednesday that it would ban the display of the Confederate flag at its events and properties.