The continuing controversy over displaying Confederate flags has divided the Republican caucus in the U.S. House, forcing leaders to cancel a vote planned for today on a bill to fund the Interior Department for the 2016 fiscal year.
For the second time in less than a month, Iowa’s four U.S. representatives split along party lines over how to handle Democratic efforts to remove all Confederate flag images from the Capitol.
Follow me after the jump for background and details.
Several measures related to the Confederate flag were among more than 100 amendments offered to the Interior Department funding bill this week.
On Tuesday, two such amendments passed on voice votes with no one speaking against them on the House floor. Cristina Marcos reported for The Hill,
The House voted Tuesday to affirm that stores on federal lands operated by the National Park Service cannot sell Confederate flags, in light of a new policy announced in the aftermath of the shooting in Charleston, S.C.
Adoption of the amendment to the 2016 Interior Department appropriations bill came easily on a voice vote after just six minutes of debate, where no one spoke in opposition. The amendment reflects a policy announced by the National Park Service in June to ban the sale of Confederate flag merchandise from its gift shops and bookstores.
Rep. Jared Huffman (D-Calif.), the author of the amendment, said it was important that Congress prevent the sale of the Confederate image on federal property.
A little later, a voice vote approved another Democratic amendment “to end a policy that allows a temporary display of the flag in cemeteries under the jurisdiction of the National Park Service.”
National Park Service Director Jonathan Jarvis issued a directive in 2010 that allows national cemeteries that commemorate a designated Confederate Memorial Day to decorate the graves of Civil War veterans with small Confederate flags. The directive states that decorative flags must be removed “as soon as possible” once the Confederate Memorial Day is over.
“We can honor that history without celebrating the Confederate flag and all of the dreadful things that it symbolizes,” Huffman said.
According to this piece by Devin Henry, “Existing National Park Service policy already prevents the Confederate flag from being flown on any cemetery flag pole on its grounds,” and just five of the fourteen cemeteries run by the National Park Service contain any graves of Confederate veterans. So the Democratic amendment would have limited impact.
Nevertheless, news of additional restrictions on Confederate flag displays didn’t sit well with some southern Republicans. Cristina Marcos reported,
Republicans who found out about the amendment [to ban the Stars and Bars at federal cemeteries] after the fact indicated that they would oppose the underlying Interior spending bill because of the Confederate flag language.
Given Democratic opposition to the Interior bill, that raised questions over whether it would have the support to win a floor vote. […]
Most Democrats already opposed the Interior bill because of its deep spending cuts to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and policy riders blocking climate-related rule-making from President Obama.
House leaders quickly moved to placate the offended southerners, sending a California Republican to do the job. Devin Henry reported for The Hill,
The amendment to the House’s Interior and Environment spending bill would allow for the display of Confederate flags at national cemeteries managed by the National Park Service (NPS) even though members voted to ban the practice earlier this week. It would counteract another amendment to the same bill blocking the service from selling Confederate flag memorabilia in gift shops in the future.
Rep. Ken Calvert (R-Calif.) offered the amendment in the closing minutes of floor debate on the spending bill Wednesday night. He made only a token statement in support of the amendment before setting up a roll-call vote on it for Thursday.
House Democrats hit back, not just with a written statement but also with one floor speech after another this morning bashing Republicans. House Speaker John Boehner announced before noon that he took the Interior Department funding bill off the agenda “to avoid the [Confederate flag] issue from becoming a ‘political football.'”
Jennifer Steinhauer and Jonathan Weisman put it more accurately in their report for the New York Times:
Republican leaders realized that they did not have the votes to pass the amendment reinstating flag displays, or the votes to pass the spending bill without the amendment. So they were left to pull the underlying bill from consideration.
Democrats weren’t finished. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi offered a resolution this afternoon to prohibit Confederate flag imagery at the Capitol. Her measure “would have forced Mississippi’s state flag, which includes the Confederate flag, to be removed from the House side of the Capitol.”
In late June, House Republicans blocked a similar resolution by referring it to a committee. All three Iowa Republicans supported their leadership on that vote.
Things played out the same way today.
After Pelosi offered the resolution, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) immediately moved to refer the measure to the House Administration Committee for further review.
Democrats shouted their disapproval to drown out all other sound in the House chamber.
“Vote! Vote! Vote!” they chanted.
The House backed McCarthy, voting 238-176 to refer the measure in a largely party-line vote.
The roll call shows that Republicans Rod Blum (IA-01), David Young (IA-03), and Steve King (IA-04) all voted to get Pelosi’s resolution and to a committee, where it can be bottled up. Democratic Representative Dave Loebsack (IA-02) voted against that motion to refer, as he did when House members considered the similar resolution in June.
I don’t know whether Blum, Young, and King agree with their colleagues about Confederate flag displays or were just afraid to vote against House leadership. Republicans who opposed a procedural motion during last month’s debates on trade policy have faced various forms of retribution.
I wish some Republican in Iowa’s Congressional delegation would speak as passionately against Confederate flag displays as Iowa GOP chair Jeff Kaufmann did earlier this week.
Speaking of which, Representative John Lewis made a heartfelt case in his speech on the House floor today:
Lewis, who is the only living speaker from the 1963 March on Washington, compared signs indicating facilities for “colored” and “white” people to the current struggle over taking down the Confederate flag. The Georgia Democrat served as the chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and was the youngest of the most prominent civil rights activists during the 1960s.
“During the height of the civil rights movement, we broke those signs down. They are gone. And the only place we would see those signs today would be in a book, in a museum, or on a video,” he said.
The Confederate flag, he said, should similarly be relegated to history. […]
“I don’t want to see our little children, whether they are black or white, Latino, Asian-American or Native American, growing up seeing these signs of division,” he added. “Hate is too heavy a burden to bear. We need not continue to plant these seeds in the minds of our people.”
Amen to that.
Any relevant comments are welcome in this thread.