Washington (CNN)Top congressional Republicans are skeptical of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s call to remove Confederate statues from display in the US Capitol as they argue that the decision ultimately rests with the states — not with lawmakers.
The push by Pelosi to remove the statues from display is taking place amid nationwide outcry over police misconduct and racial injustice in the wake of George Floyd’s death in police custody in Minneapolis. It also comes as President Donald Trump has expressed opposition to efforts to remove Confederate commanders’ names from military bases.Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell suggested on Thursday the debate over the statues in the Capitol is best left to the states to resolve, saying, “every state is allowed two statues, they can trade them out at any time,” adding, “I think that’s the appropriate way to deal with the statue issue.”Pressed on whether he would be open to moving controversial statues out of prominent locations in the Capitol, perhaps in to the basement, the Kentucky Republican didn’t rule it out, but did not explicitly say whether he would support it either. “Location is another matter,” he said, noting that that would fall under the jurisdiction of the Joint Committee on the Library, which is chaired by Republican Sen. Roy Blunt of Missouri.Read MoreHouse GOP leader Kevin McCarthy of California similarly emphasized the authority of the states to decide which historical figures are honored through statues, saying during his weekly news conference, “when it comes to statues, states have the power to select who to come forward.” McCarthy later added while discussing the issue, “Pelosi does not have the jurisdiction.” It is up to individual states to determine who from their respective histories to honor as part of the National Statuary Hall collection, which is made up of 100 statues with each state contributing two. But the Joint Committee on the Library — a joint congressional committee with oversight over the management of the Statuary Hall collection — could vote to remove statues from display in the Capitol. In a letter on Wednesday, Pelosi asked for the removal of 11 statues depicting Confederate soldiers and officials that are displayed as part of the National Statuary Hall Collection in the Capitol. She sent the letter to the leadership of the Joint Committee on the Library. GOP-led panel moves to remove Confederate names on military assets amid Trump's opposition Pelosi acknowledged that she has limited authority over the statues during her own press conference on Thursday, saying, “Believe me, if I had more authority, we’d have fewer of those statues around.” But she added, “I do believe that the committees have the jurisdiction to move these statues.” Blunt, the Joint Committee on the Library chair, suggested on Thursday that for Pelosi’s call for Confederate statues to be removed from display to carry weight, there would need to be a legislative change. “I think for the Speaker’s letter to have meaning, you’d have to have legislative support for it,” Blunt said when pressed on his reaction to the letter.Rep. Rodney Davis, who is the ranking Republican on the House Administration Committee, said while he understands the “concerns being raised,” if Pelosi and the committee’s chairwoman, Democratic Rep. Zoe Lofgren, “were serious about getting them removed, they would either work with these states to replace them, which is required by current law, or work to change the law.” Debate over Confederate-era symbols is already opening up a divide within the Republican Party. A Senate plan to remove names of Confederate leaders on military assets has now put a GOP-led panel at odds with the White House after the panel adopted an amendment, offered by Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren, that calls for the removal of names of Confederate leaders from all military assets — whether it’s a base, installation, facility, aircraft, ship, plane or type of equipment — within three years. The plan was adopted behind closed doors with the support of some Republicans, even as Trump condemned any action to remove Confederate leaders’ names from military bases — and the White House vowed to veto any such legislative effort.Blunt said on Thursday that the Joint Committee of the Library has authority to “move statues around” within the Capitol and “we do some of that.” But when asked if statues could then be moved to a storage area or a less prominent location, he replied that “would violate the agreements with the states.”Blunt did say, however, that while “there’s nothing to take up, yet,” if there is “legislation that comes from the House” he’d be “glad to take it up” in the committee.Pelosi discussed the possibility of dealing with the issue through legislation on Thursday as well. “It may take legislation or action by the rule committee,” she said. Republican Sen. Richard Shelby of Alabama, a member of the Joint Committee on the Library, told CNN he will “listen to anything,” but added, “You can’t change history.”