Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) announced Tuesday that he plans to drop his objection to legislation that would establish Juneteenth as a federal holiday celebrating the end of slavery in the United States.
Johnson said he realized the bill had enough support to overcome a filibuster in the Senate, so he said he wouldn’t bother.
“It sounds like Congress wants to do it so I’m not going to stand in the way,” Johnson told HuffPost.
Johnson single-handedly blocked the bill from advancing in the Senate last year due to concerns over its cost. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas) and Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) introduced the measure last year amid mass protests over the police killing of George Floyd.
The bill could pass as early as this week if no Republicans object to its quick consideration on the floor. But Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), a leading sponsor of the bill, said other Republican senators still have concerns with the bill that he is working to address this week.
“I’m going to be talking with [Republicans] to try to make sure that we can smooth the pathway towards passage,” Markey told HuffPost.
There could be a request for unanimous consent to proceed immediately to a vote on final passage of the bill this week. A GOP objection would only delay its passage; Democrats could still go through the time-consuming process required to schedule a recorded vote.
The Juneteenth National Independence Day Act has 18 Republican co-sponsors, but it’s possible another Republican will insist that the Senate go through the full cloture process, which would require time for debate and the support of 60 senators before a vote on final passage. It’s not clear whether Democrats will want to take the time to do so, however, since they have been more focused on bills protecting voting rights and improving the country’s infrastructure.
African Americans have celebrated the end of slavery on June 19 since that day in 1865, when the Union Army belatedly brought word to Galveston, Texas, that slavery had been outlawed, two years after President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation.
If the bill passes, Juneteenth would become the 11th annual federal holiday. Only federal workers are required by law to get federal holidays off. There’s no requirement that private businesses give their employees the day off.
Johnson, for his part, said he still dislikes the idea of the bill.
“I support celebrating the end of slavery, emancipation,” Johnson said. “I just think it’s kind of odd that now apparently the only way to do that is to give 2 million federal workers a paid day off, cost American taxpayers $600 million.”