Not only did GOP House leadership create possibly days’ worth of controversy by trying to sneak some language protecting the display of the Confederate flag into a larger spending bill. They did it while keeping most of their rank-and-file in the dark about it, including the Republican lawmakers tasked with pulling together the appropriations bill, which was pulled from the floor Thursday due to the Confederate flag fracas.
A report by CQ Roll Call details which Republican lawmakers knew what when Wednesday night, as Rep. Ken Calvert (R-CA) introduced the disastrous amendment that would have reversed previously approved measures banning the display of the Confederate flag on certain federal lands. The failed gambit appeared to be a last-minute attempt by leadership to save the Interior appropriations bill — the first major spending bill Republican lawmakers were hoping to pass this session — which was facing opposition from the caucus’ right flank over the Confederate flag prohibitions, as well as for going too soft, in their view, on the EPA.
CQ Roll Call details how Republican members on the Appropriations Committee found out about the late-night twist that would end up derailing the bill and ultimately give Democrats the upper hand in the Confederate flag debate:
The real red flag was the sudden appearance of leadership staff, namely senior aides for Appropriations Chairman Harold Rogers, R-Ky., and Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio.
But for members not on the floor at the time, the realization that something was up came more slowly.
“I usually stay around for most of the debate on the Interior bill, but I had to go get my dry cleaning so I’d have something to wear today,” Rep. Mike Simpson, (R-ID), the chairman of the Energy and Water Development Appropriations Subcommittee told Roll Call, recalling the moment when Calvert took the floor with the amendment. “I got home and turned on the TV and Ken was using his motions to strike the last word … and I said, ‘What’s going on?’ And all of a sudden somebody hands him this amendment and he does it and I kind of go, ‘Oh, shit.'”
Meanwhile, according to the Roll Call report, Rep. Chris Stewart (R-UT), another member of the Appropriations Committee, was out to dinner with House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA). Stewart said his phone was low on battery, preventing his colleagues from informing him of the unfolding drama, but his dinner partner made no mention that the amendment was coming.
Democrats said they were shocked by the move, and went on the offensive Thursday, calling out Republicans for the reversal.
In a statement Thursday released as the effort was falling apart, Calvert admitted that leadership asked him to bring the amendment on the behalf of Republicans from South.
“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,” he said.