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Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

As hard as it is to get Democrats and Republicans to agree on anything these days, they came together to make Juneteenth a federal holiday because George Floyd's death and withering concern about its cost finally won over critics.

Why it matters: Juneteenth will be the first new holiday since 1983, when Congress finally approved Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday. When President Biden signs it into law, June 19 will formally commemorate the end of slavery in the United States.

  • Establishing MLK Jr. Day was extremely controversial at the time and took almost 20 years to accomplish.
  • Making Juneteenth a national holiday happened in roughly a year. It gained momentum last year after Floyd's murder while in police custody sparked the massive Black Lives Matter protests across the country.
  • Congressional leaders finally dropped their party differences this week, with the Senate passing it Tuesday and the House doing the same Wednesday.

Between the lines: "It just seems like, given everything that's going on in terms of race relations in the country, it's an important reminder of how far we've come and how far we still have to go," Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), a co-sponsor of the Senate bill, told Axios.

  • The bill's passage comes as the parties continue to haggle over expansive legislation on voting rights and police reform.
  • Some critics questioned whether Republicans were seeking to inoculate themselves over any vote against either bill.
  • Cornyn dismissed any potential crossover effect from Juneteenth to the other bills, saying, "Those are really apples and oranges, in my opinion."

The backdrop: The legislation was introduced on a bipartisan basis in 2020 by Cornyn and Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.).

  • Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) then blocked the bill, arguing that having federal employees take the day off would cost U.S. taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars.
  • But Johnson didn't block the bill Tuesday when the Senate took it up again — eager to pass it before this Saturday, June 19.
  • "It is clear that there is no appetite in Congress to further discuss the matter," Johnson said.

The big picture: For years, Juneteenth has been celebrated in Houston and Galveston, Texas, to commemorate U.S. Major General Gordon Granger issuing General Order No. 3 during the Civil War.

  • That order announced that, in accordance with the Emancipation Proclamation, “all slaves are free.” It was one of the last places in the U.S. where enslaved people learned of the Emancipation.
  • Juneteenth recently has become a day marked in other cities — particularly within the African American community — and became a rallying point last year.

What they're saying: "It'd be opportunities for us to get together and talk about those elements of this history, to make a difference on the idea that America did eliminate the freedom of some of the human beings in their nation," U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas), the bill's sponsor in the House, told Axios' Russell Contreras.

  • "It would mean that we could talk about freedom, we could use the word freedom, we could, in essence, be unafraid of freedom."

Go deeper

21 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Infrastructure bills face House chaos

Rep. Hakeem Jeffries arrives for a House vote last month. Photo: Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images

The infrastructure agreement cinched Wednesday by senators faces several changes in the House before it — and a companion reconciliation bill — have any chance of becoming law.

Why it matters: The myopic focus on the bipartisan group of Senate negotiators overlooks House progressives and others ready to pounce. They have the ability to quash any deal, given the narrow Democratic margins not only in the Senate but also the House.

Updated 38 mins ago - Politics & Policy

Congress passes $2.1B Capitol security funding bill

U.S. Capitol police officers testify during a House select committee hearing on the Jan. 6 Capitol riot on July 27. Photo: Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/Pool via Xinhua

A $2.1 billion Capitol security funding bill is heading to President Biden for his signature after the House and Senate passed the legislation on Thursday.

Why it matters: The legislation provides funding for the Capitol Police, the National Guard and other agencies to cover the costs incurred during the Jan. 6 riot.

Biden details new vaccination initiatives as COVID cases surge

Joe Biden. Photo: Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

President Biden detailed several new initiatives on Thursday to get more Americans vaccinated and slow the spread of the Delta variant.

Why it matters: The plan outlines aggressive next steps from the federal government as COVID-19 cases surge across the country due to the contagious Delta variant and as demand for vaccines has tapered off.

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