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The Huffington Post reports that a bill to declare Juneteenth a federal holiday failed at the hands of Senator Ron Johnson (R-WI), who blocked it from advancing.

  • Senate Democrats, joined by Senator John Cornyn (R-TX), proposed a bill to establish Juneteenth as a federal holiday in June in response to the widespread calls for racial justice spurred by George Floyd’s death at the hands of police.
  • Black communities have long celebrate June 19 as the symbolic end of slavery. It marks the 1865 day a group of slaves in Texas belatedly learned about President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation from two years earlier.
  • Cornyn called the bill an opportunity to “demonstrate our nonpartisan support for this act of racial reconciliation in our country.”
  • Johnson has asserted that he supports honoring Juneteenth for what it commemorates.
  • However, he blocked the resolutions on the grounds that establishing Juneteenth as a holiday would “give federal workers a paid day off that the rest of America has to pay for,” ultimately costing the private sector “up to $600 million a year.”
  • Johnson suggested compromising by reducing the number of days of paid leave federal workers receive to compensate for the inclusion of a new holiday.
  • But Senator Ed Markey (D-MA) rejected this as an unreasonable penalty to workers.

He said,

We shouldn’t be penalizing our workers by taking away benefits, especially not in the current environment, and especially not as the price to pay for recognizing a long-overdue federal holiday.

  • Without Johnson’s approval, the bill failed to advance.
  • The United States recognizes ten federal holidays, though only federal employees enjoy all of them as days off from work, as private employers face no obligation to observe them all.
  • Then-President Ronald Reagan initially opposed proposals to establish Martin Luther King Jr. Day for reasons similar to those Johnson expressed against Juneteenth, though he eventually relented in 1983.

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