WASHINGTON (NEXSTAR) — President Donald Trump is promising to aggressively pursue charges against the people accused of vandalizing a statue of President Andrew Jackson just outside the White House.
The vandals spray-painted the word “killer” on the statue of Jackson, a slave owner. If convicted, the four suspects face up to 10 years in prison.
Trump’s move came Tuesday as he signed an executive order directing the Department of Justice to prosecute anyone who defaces or damages federally owned statues to the fullest extent of the law.
“The full weight of the federal government in terms of investigations and prosecutions … will be provided,” U.S. Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt said. “(There are) very severe criminal penalties.”
The order also threatens to cut federal funding from cities and states that don’t protect statues — though the administration is still working to determine what cash could be on the chopping block.
“There’s no free lunch,” Bernhardt said.
Republicans and Democrats are clashing over the president’s order.
“The president, I’m sure, wants to take action because, I guess, to say that he’s doing something,” said Rep. Dan Kildee, D-Mich., who was unimpressed with the new zero-tolerance policy. “First of all, the protection of monuments, that is already law.”
He said rather than making threats, the president should be listening to protesters as they call for the removal of statues of people associated with the Confederacy and racism.
A national poll from Quinnipiac University conducted earlier this month shows 52% of Americans support removing Confederate monuments from public spaces, 19% more than about three years ago. Among Democrats, 85% support removals and among Republicans 14%.
“We’re at a point where we need to have a serious conversation as to whether we want to continue to honor people who enslaved their fellow Americans,” Kildee said.
But Republicans like Sens. Josh Hawley of Missouri and Joni Ernst of Iowa disagree.
“The cancel culture, woke mob is just out of control,” Hawley said. “None of those people were perfect people, for heaven’s sake, but it doesn’t meant that they aren’t part of our history.”
“It’s important we understand all of our history, even those painful moments,” Ernst agreed. “Our monuments should be protected.”
The Republican-controlled Senate is expected to vote on a new defense bill later this week. Democrats have introduced a provision to that bill that would rename bases currently named after Confederate heroes. Hawley said he opposes that amendment and has proposed an alternative that would create a commission to review the idea first.