The next chair of the House Appropriations subcommittee on Interior, Environment and Related Agencies made it clear on Tuesday that she is firmly opposed to pushing through any legislation that could allow the construction of a new stadium for the Washington Redskins football team on public land.
Rep. Betty McCollum, D-Minn., who in January will chair the House subcommittee that will direct the Interior Department’s spending, tweeted that she plans to fight a Republican-led push to insert language into a sweeping year-end spending bill that could streamline plans to build a new facility on the site of the existing RFK Stadium.
“This GOP backdoor deal to give 190 acres of the most valuable land in DC for a new NFL football stadium benefiting a billionaire owner of an NFL team and its racist mascot must be stopped,” McCollum tweeted.
In an interview with the Washington Post earlier this week, McCollum raised two objections to a new stadium for the NFL team. She opposes the long-term private use of federal land without a thorough public process and, like many critics of the Washington D.C. football team, she called the squad’s name a “racial slur.”
“That’s not something the federal government should be condoning, encouraging or be a part of,” McCollum, who is also co-chair of the congressional Native American Caucus, told the newspaper. “Is it because there are no tribes here, that it’s okay — they really don’t exist, we can pretend that this doesn’t mean anything? It means a great deal to young Native American children, that means a great deal to Native American veterans. It means a great deal to me.”
While Native Americans have complained about the use of the term “Redskin” for the team’s name since the 1960s, the topic began to receive widespread attention in the 1990s as activists called for a new name for the team. More recently, Native American protestors have pointed out the irony of NFL players making a statement opposing racial injustice by "taking a knee" for the National Anthem while one of the teams taking the field continues to use a racially offensive name and logo.
Despite the uproar, both NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and the team’s owner, Daniel Synder, are firmly opposed to changing the name.
"We'll never change the name. ... It's that simple. NEVER—you can use caps,” Snyder told USA Today.
Along with her disapproval of the team’s name, McCollum’s opposition also highlights the GOP-led push to insert a D.C. stadium provision into the spending legislation before Democrats – the majority of whom side with their Minnesota colleague over the team’s name – take control of the House.
According to the Washington Post, talks about the language in the bill concern a 99-year extension of the current D.C. lease on the federal site, which runs through 2038, and removing any restrictions on the use of the land.
Despite this language, the current House Natural Resources Committee Chairman, Rob Bishop, R-Utah, does not think a lease extension goes far enough.
“What they’re asking for is really short of what I want to give them,” he told the Post. “There’s no reason under God’s green earth that the federal government should have RFK Stadium. There’s no reason why we had it in the first place, and the city needs it. Whether they have a long lease extension or a short lease extension, it’s still a lease extension, and they should just take the entire dang thing.”
McCollum and other Democrats, however, are strongly opposed to handing over federal land for private use.
“This is a radical change, and it needs to really be examined and looked at,” she said of any long-term lease. “I mean, what’s the value of the property? If it goes to D.C. and they’re going to turn around and lease and make money on it, we have to make sure that the federal taxpayer is whole on this.”
Whether the language about the stadium makes it into a spending bill is just one of many issues still to be decided if lawmakers and President Trump hope to get some type of deal agreed upon before year end and avoid a government shutdown. A meeting on Tuesday between Trump and leading congressional Democrats ended on a sour note with the president threatening a government shutdown if funding for a border wall was not included in the omnibus spending bill.
"If we don't have border security, we'll shut down the government." Trump said in an open-press session on Tuesday.