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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

House passes bill that would guarantee abortion access

Demonstrators gather during a Planned Parenthood Day of Action Rally in the Brooklyn borough of New York. Photo: Desiree Rios/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The House of Representatives on Friday passed the Women’s Health Protection Act, which would guarantee a person's right to an abortion, in a 218-211 vote.

Why it matters: The Supreme Court in December will consider a case on a Mississippi law that bans abortions after 15 weeks, which could potentially overturn Roe v. Wade, the 1973 landmark case that ruled a woman had the constitutional right to have an abortion.

1 hour ago - World

U.S. will give Russians written response to NATO demands, Blinken says

Blinken and Lavrov shake hands in Geneva. Photo: Russian Foreign Ministry / Handout/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Secretary of State Antony Blinken confirmed after a meeting with his Russian counterpart on Friday that the U.S. will provide written answers to Russia's security demands next week.

Why it matters: Russia claims to be waiting for "concrete answers" to its demands that NATO rule out further expansion and roll back its presence in eastern Europe before deciding its next steps on Ukraine. But the U.S. and NATO have called those proposals "non-starters," and Friday's meeting offered no breakthroughs, so it's unclear how written answers might change the equation.

More surprises await scientists at Antarctica's "Doomsday Glacier"

Cliffs along the edge of the Thwaites Ice Shelf in West Antarctica. Photo: James Yungel/NASA

Researchers like David Holland, an atmospheric scientist at New York University, are in a race to understand the fate of a massive glacier in West Antarctica that has earned a disquieting nickname: "The Doomsday Glacier."

Why it matters: Studies show the Thwaites Glacier (its official name) could already be on an irreversible course to melt during the next several decades to centuries, freeing up enough inland ice to raise global sea levels by at least several feet.

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