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Sen. Johnson withdraws proposal to replace Columbus Day with Juneteenth as federal holiday

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The Juneteenth flag is raised for the first time over the state Capitol in Madison.

WASHINGTON (WKOW) -- Two senators, including Ron Johnson (R-Wisconsin), withdrew a bill amendment that would have replaced Columbus Day with Juneteenth as a federal holiday.

Instead, Johnson and Sen. James Lankford (R-Oklahoma) intend to introduce a new amendment that, if passed, will reduce the number of paid leave day federal employees receive.

The announcement came in a press release from Johnson's office Friday.

The original amendment was made on a bill offered by Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) which designates Juneteenth a federal holiday. Johnson said his intention behind the amendment and its eventual replacement is to reduce the budgetary burden created by giving federal employees more paid time off.

"Let me reiterate: I suggested Columbus Day for the swap because few Americans in the private sector get it as a paid holiday, and as a result, it is lightly celebrated, and would not be disruptive to most Americans’ schedules," Johnson said. "I was in no way deprecating Christopher Columbus’ achievements or expressing any value judgment regarding his place in history."

Opponents of honoring Christopher Columbus say the explorer's voyages kicked off centuries of genocide and suffering against native peoples in the Americas. Those in favor of observing Columbus Day say eliminating the holiday amounts to erasing important history.

Johnson said he wanted to foster a discussion about the cost of providing federal employees an 11th paid day off, a goal Johnson he achieved. "In fact, I received a number of very good suggestions."

The Wisconsin senator implied that the feedback he received led to the decision to draw up a new amendment.

"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," he said.

The press release from Johnson's office said the senator admired making Juneteenth, a day commemorating the freeing of slaves in the United States, a federal holiday. However, he said adding the holiday without cutbacks in other areas could cost the federal government $600 million.

In a press release sent Wednesday announcing the introduction of the original amendment, Lankford said making Juneteenth a federal holiday helped make the United States a more perfect union.

"We should celebrate these strides on the federal level while remaining cognizant of the impact the existing 10 federal holidays have on federal services and local businesses," Lankford said.

The Oklahoma senator's office had issued a statement on the withdrawal of the original amendment at the time of this writing.

Juneteenth is celebrated June 19. Columbus Day is observed on October 12.

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