As Republicans face a withering blowback for embracing the display of Confederate flags on National Parks and federal cemeteries, Democrats are looking to capitalize on the misfire and draw attention to Republican reluctance to let go of the Confederate flag.
The procedural maneuvering is a little complicated, but the gist is this: Late Wednesday night Republicans introduced an amendment that would have reversed a previously passed Democratic amendment restricting the display of Confederate flags at federal cemeteries.
Democrats were quick to decry the sneak-attack reversal, carrying with them to the House floor poster boards bearing the Confederate flag. The backlash was so immediate and fierce that by Thursday morning the House GOP leadership was forced to cancel a vote on a major Interior appropriations bill that contained the flag provision.
GOP leaders said they would hold off on voting on the Interior bill until the Confederate flag question was sorted out.
“I think it’s time for some adults here in Congress to sit down and have conversation about how to address this issue,” House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) Boehner told reporters at his weekly press conference. “I do not want this to become some political football.
However, Democrats insisted they would wait to address the Confederate flag issue no longer. House Minority Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) introduced a resolution to remove from the U.S. Capitol state flags containing the Confederate flag, which a rowdy House by mostly party line voted to refer to committee. Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-MS) had introduced a similar measure two weeks ago, which was also referred to committee.
The controversy began late Wednesday night when Rep. Ken Calvert (R-CA) introduced an amendment to the Interior bill that would scale back language offered by Democrats that would have prohibited the sale and display of the Confederate flag at National Parks and federal cemeteries. The Democratic amendments had previously passed by voice vote without opposition.
“Unfortunately, we are unable to speak with one voice on this issue today because of the faction within the Republican caucus that is frankly out of step with the times we live in, with where the country wants us to go on this issue, and with the values that I believe our country holds dear,” Rep. Jared Huffman (D-CA), one of the amendment sponsors, said at a press conference Thursday.
Democrats suggested that the GOP reversal was a last ditch effort to shore up Republican support on the larger Interior bill, which was already facing criticisms from conservative House members for not doing enough to dismantle environmental protections. A statement issued Thursday by the Republican amendment’s sponsor as the measure fell apart seemed to support this account.
“The amendment offered last night to the Interior and Environment Appropriations bill was brought to me by Leadership at the request of some southern Members of the Republican Caucus,” Calvert said. “Looking back, I regret not conferring with my colleagues on the other side of the aisle, especially my Ranking Member Betty McCollum, prior to offering the Leadership’s amendment and fully explaining its intent given the strong feelings Members of the House feel regarding this important and sensitive issue.”
McCollum, a Minnesota Democrat, immediately reacted to the move Wednesday night on the House floor and was still seething Thursday morning when talking to reporters.
“I was rather taken back by the amendment being offered and I was deeply disturbed by the action and by the fact that it was done so much at the last minute,” McCollum said.
According to Pelosi, GOP leadership feared they would lose the votes of 100 Republican members out of opposition to the amendments banning the flag an National Parks, and she noted at Thursday’s press conference that leadership had sought to limit floor debate on the matter.
“They were afraid of what our colleagues said here. But I tell you, they were more afraid of what those 100 members of Congress might come to the floor and say in defense of the Calvert amendment,” she said.
Nevertheless, the spotlight is back on Republicans, who have stalled Democrats’ efforts to remove the flag and other Confederate symbols from the U.S. Capitol grounds. Thursday’s ruckus came as the Republican-led South Carolina statehouse removed the Confederate flag from its Capitol grounds. It also marked the anniversary of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which granted African Americans equal protection under the law after the Civil War.
“All these parliamentary maneuvers to avoid making tough decisions can only delay the process,” Thompson said at Thursday’s press conference. “We have to get beyond this.”