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Confederate statues would be removed from national parks under new push by Minnesota lawmaker

WASHINGTON — Minnesota Democrat Betty McCollum is pushing the federal government to get rid of Confederate statues and memorials in national parks—and she’s gaining some traction this year as opposition to the public display of Confederate symbols grows.

McCollum, who leads the House subcommittee that oversees spending for the Interior Department, included language in the agency’s fiscal 2021 spending bill that would require the National Park Service to remove from public view all Confederate statues, monuments and plaques.

If passed into law, the requirement could be a monumental task for parks officials. The agency does not have a register of all of its Confederate commemorative works. But at Gettysburg National Military Park in Gettysburg, Pa., alone, there are more than 1,300 monuments, markers and plaques that commemorate those who fought and died there.

The bill language is a victory for McCollum, who has been working on this issue for years. She made a similar attempt five years ago to block the sale of Confederate flags in national parks. That effort ultimately failed, though the Department of Veterans Affairs later moved to bar Confederate flag imagery from flagpoles at national cemeteries on Memorial Day or Confederate Memorial Day.

McCollum said she sees an opportunity this year to revisit the issue, in light of the ongoing national discourse about racism.

Congresswoman Betty McCollum (D- Minn.)

“I am committed, as a citizen and as a person who has taught social studies and as a member of Congress, to help our country confront the legacy of racism,” McCollum said in an interview with the Minnesota Reformer. “I have an opportunity now, and I worked with like-minded members of Congress to require the Park Service to remove Confederate commemorative works.”

The House approved the measure in July, as part of a wide-ranging spending bill called a “mini-bus” because it includes four different spending bills to fund the Interior, State, Veterans Affairs and Agriculture departments. It passed on a party-line vote without any debate of the Confederate monuments issue.

The White House, however, in its Statement of Administration Policy on the measure said it “strongly objects” to the Confederate monuments language, calling it a “drive to edit history.”    Read more

Top Homeland Security official vows federal agents ‘will not back away’ from violent protests

A federal officer tells the crowd to move while dispersing a protest in front of the Mark O. Hatfield U.S. Courthouse on July 21, 2020 in Portland, Oregon. (Photo by Nathan Howard/Getty Images)

WASHINGTON — The Trump administration’s Number Two at the Department of Homeland Security on Tuesday defended federal law enforcement officers’ intervention in protests in Portland, Oregon, and other cities this summer.

Characterizing some of the protests as “mob rule,” Acting Deputy Homeland Security Secretary Ken Cuccinelli told lawmakers  that federal agents could exert force in other cities if violent protests break out.

“DHS will not back away from our responsibilities to protect federal property, the people using those properties, and our brave law enforcement officers,” Cuccinelli said at a Senate Judiciary subcommittee hearing.

Many of the protests in Portland have centered around the Mark O.Hatfield Federal Courthouse. President Donald Trump dispatched Homeland Security agents to Portland in July to protect federal property and respond to demonstrations that he and Cuccinelli have characterized as stemming from violent extremist groups.

“This country cannot survive allowing mob rule to replace the rule of law… they are not just attacking a federal court house but they are attacking very foundations that make the enjoyment of our natural rights possible, the rule of law itself,” Cuccinelli said.

Cuccinelli’s remarks follow a wave of criticism from Democrats and local leaders in Portland about the presence of federal law enforcement

Ken Cuccinelli – Photo: Ned Oliver/ Virginia Mercury

in the city– where demonstrations escalated into nightly clashes between protesters and federal officers. Viral videos showed officers in military fatigues using pepper balls and forceful tactics to clear streets and grabbing protesters to drive them away in unmarked cars. Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler has blamed federal agents for escalating conflict.

Oregon Gov. Kate Brown and the Trump administration reached an agreement last week for the federal agents to leave the city in phases, allowing local police to address the situation. Portland has seen weeks of demonstrations following the death of George Floyd, a Black man killed in Minneapolis in police custody.

Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.), a member of the committee, joined the hearing remotely and said she supports federal law enforcement. “They are protecting people who are coming peaceably to express their opinion and assemble, and at the same time having to deal with these rioters there to destroy property to harm people,” Blackburn said.

When officers put on their uniforms, “they don’t know if there are going to be peaceful protestors or if there are going to be the disruptors and destroyers that show up that they are going to have to deal with,” she said.

In late May, Memphis and Nashville both saw peaceful protests turn violent after dark, with damage to public and private property and police using  tear gas and pepper spray to disperse the crowds. In one outburst, people set Historic Metro Nashville City Hall on fire.

On July Fourth, thousands marched in Nashville in a Black Lives Matter demonstration. That night, Tennessee police arrested 55 violators for criminal trespassing. In both cases, organizers of the daytime protests said their groups were not connected with the destructive action at night.

Legislative proposals

Congressional Democrats have decried the Trump administration’s involvement in the Portland protests. Read more