House Republicans punted on two separate issues relating to the Confederate flag on Thursday, suggesting that, even while Republicans in South Carolina overwhelmingly voted to remove it from state capitol grounds following the deaths of nine African Americans at the hands of white supremacist Dylann Roof, it’s still a hot-button issue for many Republicans in Congress.
First, Republicans pulled a $30.2 billion Department of Interior spending bill over a provision over whether to display the Confederate flag in federal parks and cemeteries. Democrats attached an amendment, put forth by Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY), by voice vote on Tuesday night banning the display of the Confederate flag “on a public building or facility under the authority of the National Park Service.” There are dozens of cemeteries around the country that are owned by the federal government but run privately by groups like the Sons of the Confederate Veterans.
“The confederate battle flag is a divisive symbol of oppression that has no place in a civilized society. Our country has come a long way since the abolition of slavery, but there is much more to be done in order to eradicate the cancer of racial hatred,” Jeffries said in a statement released Wednesday morning. “By prohibiting the use of federal funds in connection with the purchase or display of the confederate battle flag, the House has chosen to embrace progress over division. It is time to banish the confederate battle flag to the dustbin of history once and for all.”
Republicans moved quickly, and Rep. Ken Calvert (R-CA) put forth an amendment on Wednesday evening to preserve the right of national parks and cemeteries to display the Confederate flag — essentially reversing the Democrats’ amendment.
Rep. Betty McCollum (D-MN) spoke out against the amendment on the floor Wednesday night, saying, “I cannot hide my surprise and my outrage.”
Calvert said he put forth the amendment at the request of Republican leaders who were trying to satisfy southern Republicans in the caucus. In a statement released Thursday, he said, “The intent of the Leadership’s amendment was to clear up any confusion and maintain the Obama administration’s policies with respect to those historical and educational exceptions.” He also said he regretted “not conferring with my colleagues on the other side of the aisle.”
According to Appropriations Chair Hal Rogers, leadership expressed concern that the Interior spending bill would not pass, suggesting that they would lose as many as 100 Republican votes if it included the ban on the Confederate flag.
After the decision to pull the parks spending bill, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi put forth a resolution to remove the Confederate flag from the U.S. Capitol, even if it were part of a state flag — targeting Mississippi, the only state to keep a version of its flag with a tribute to the Confederacy — and donating it to the Library of Congress as a historical artifact. Pelosi’s amendment was similar to one offered by Mississippi’s only African American congressional delegate in the days after the Charleston shooting. Mississippi House Speaker Phillip Gunn has already called for the state to remove the Confederate portion of the flag.
Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) stalled on the Mississippi flag resolution by referring the resolution to committee. Speaker John Boehner’s spokesman slammed Pelosi’s move as a “cheap political stunt.”