The House overwhelmingly passed the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act on Wednesday by a vote of 415 to 14, sending the legislation to President Joe Biden’s desk and putting the nation on the cusp of establishing a federal holiday marking the end of slavery.
Democrats hailed the vote as an effort to bridge the nation’s “racial divide” and “bring together people who understand the value of freedom.” Fourteen Republicans in the chamber, however, voted against the bill despite overwhelming support among Americans.
Some lawmakers quickly took to the House floor or released statements explaining themselves, including Rep. Thomas Massie (Ky.), who took umbrage with the holiday’s nomenclature.
“I fully support creating a day to celebrate the abolition of slavery,” Massie said during House floor debate. “However, naming this day National Independence Day will create confusion and push Americans to pick one of those two days as their Independence Day based on their racial identity.”
Instead, Massie said, he would prefer the day to be called “Emancipation Day.”
Rep. Chip Roy (Texas) agreed, saying he expected pushback against the name “that is going to be seen as conflicting.”
“It’s been referred to in our history as Jubilee Day, Emancipation Day, Freedom Day,” Roy said on the House floor of Juneteenth. “I would be amenable to any of those names. I don’t believe that the title National Independence Day, I think, works.”
Rep. Matt Rosendale (Mont.) went a step further, saying the day was merely “an effort by the left” to push “identity politics.”
“Let’s call an ace an ace,” the lawmaker said in a statement Wednesday. “This is an effort by the left to create a day out of whole cloth to celebrate identity politics as part of its larger efforts to make ‘critical race theory’ the reigning ideology of our country. Since I believe in treating everyone equally, regardless of race, and that we should be focused on what unites us rather than our differences, I will vote ‘no.’”
And Rep. Ronnie Jackson (Texas) said the country already had “enough” national holidays.
“We have enough federal holidays right now,” the lawmaker told USA Today. “I just don’t see the reason in doing it. I don’t think it rises to the level I’m going to support it.”
The 10 other Republicans to vote against the bill were: Reps. Andy Biggs (Ariz.), Mo Brooks (Ala.), Andrew Clyde (Ga.), Scott DesJarlais (Tenn.), Paul Gosar (Ariz.), Doug LaMalfa (Calif.), Tom McClintock (Calif.), Ralph Norman (S.C.), Mike Rogers (Ala.), and Tom Tiffany (Wis.).
Most Americans support making Juneteenth a national holiday, an idea that gained momentum last year following the country’s widespread Black Lives Matter protests following the police killing of George Floyd. June 19 has long been celebrated by Black Americans as a day marking the end of slavery in 1865.
If signed by Biden, the day will be the first new national holiday since Martin Luther King Jr. Day was established in 1983.