The GOP-controlled House of Representatives approved legislation Thursday that restricts that display of the Confederate Flag on cemeteries run by Department of Veterans Affairs.
Even allowing the floor vote was a major moment for House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI), as GOP leadership has largely avoided holding votes on the contentious issue after the the mass shooting at a black church in Charleston, South Carolina, reignited the debate over Confederate flags. Similar legislation derailed an appropriations bill last summer, when former Rep. John Boehner held the speaker’s gavel.
“Last year it stopped the appropriations process in its tracks,” Ryan said at press conference after Thursday’s vote, according to The Hill. “What changed is we have to get through these things, and if we’re going to have open rules and appropriations, which we have, which is regular order, people are going to have to take tough votes.”
The House voted 265-159, with 84 Republicans joining nearly all of the Democrats, to approve the amendment, which was part of the fiscal 2017 Military Construction and Veterans Affairs appropriations bill, according to The Post and Courier. The amendment had been introduced late last night by Rep. Jared Huffman (D-CA), and it bars large-scale displays of the flag at V.A. ceremonies, while allowing families of deceased veterans to display small flags on individual graves on certain days of the year, according to The Hill
Last summer, similar legislation derailed a vote on an Interior Appropriations bill, as some Republicans balked at a Democratic amendment that would have restricted the display of Confederate flags at federal cemeteries and attempted to sneak in language that would reverse it. Democrats, led by the Congressional Black Caucus, rebelled against the move, and the entire bill had to be pulled from a floor vote, to the embarrassment of Republicans, who have tried to make the argument that they can effectively pass budget legislation through the typical process.
Since then, the House speakership has been assumed by Ryan (R-WI), who has said the Confederate flag “does insult.”
According to the Hill report, this time around the vote still faced sharp opposition from some Republicans in Ryan’s caucus. In a behind-the-scenes email provided to The Hill, it was compared to the Islamic State’s campaign to destroy historical monuments by a top staffer in the office of Rep. Lynn Westmoreland (R-GA).
“You know who else supports destroying history so that they can advance their own agenda? ISIL. Don’t be like ISIL. I urge you to vote NO,” the staffer, Pete Sanborn, said in the email, which was signed, “Yours in freedom from the PC police.”
(Westmoreland said he “does not condone” such language in a statement from his spokeswoman to The Hill.)
In another recent Confederate flag pullback by the House GOP, the Mississippi state flag, which bears Confederate imagery, was recently not hung back up in a U.S. Capitol hallway where it been taken down for a renovation. All the flags in the hallway were replaced by a display of commemorative quarters. The chair of the committee on House Administration Rep. Candice Miller (R-MI), who made the decision, said she did so because of “the controversy surrounding confederate imagery.”