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House Confederate Flag Battle Not Over

Vargas (CQ Roll Call File Photo/Bill Clark)
Vargas and other House Administration Democrats want action on the resolution referred to their panel. (CQ Roll Call File Photo/Bill Clark)

After a long day fighting over the Confederate battle flag, it is unclear where the issue might flare up next for the House of Representatives.

For the second time in less than a month, House Democrats on Thursday sought a floor vote for a resolution to ban Confederate flag imagery on House grounds. Like before, Republicans made sure it was sent to the House Administration Committee to go through “regular order,” rather than an up-or-down vote right then and there.

It might stay there, but not if the committee’s Democrats have anything to say about it.

Republicans could have forced a vote to table the resolutions entirely, within the majority’s rights under House rules. Both resolutions — the first from Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., the latest from Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. — were brought to the floor under privileged motions that mandate a response.

“This raises an important question and the House would be best served by committee action,” Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., said Thursday. “I’m moving to refer it to House Administration.”

Democrats seem less inclined to take “not now” for an answer, knowing most bills referred to committee seldom see floor action.

House Democrats felt emboldened by Republican leaders’ attempt to secure votes for their fiscal 2016 Interior-Environment appropriations bill by undoing an adopted amendment to ban Confederate flags at federal cemeteries. The backlash over the maneuver forced Republicans to pull the spending bill entirely.

They now hope to turn up the heat on GOP leaders and House Administration Committee Chairwoman Candice S. Miller, R-Mich., to hold a hearing or markup on either of the two privileged resolutions on the flag.

The panel’s three Democrats are already starting their campaign. And so, in a rare split on the typically bipartisan committee, House Administration Democrats on Thursday wrote to Miller, R-Mich., imploring her to act on the resolution. “We assume the Majority Leader did not intend to bury [the resolution] here, but instead that the Committee should consider these resolutions in earnest and recommend appropriate action,” they wrote.

“[Ranking member Robert A.] Brady believes the committee should act quickly to consider the Thompson and Pelosi resolutions and intends to use every opportunity to compel the committee to act,” said Jamie Fleet, the House Administration Committee’s Democratic staff director.

Committee member Juan C. Vargas, D-Calif., told CQ Roll Call he hoped both resolutions would be dealt with on the floor rather than be sent to his panel “just to die.”

“But certainly,” he said, “I’m going to push to have it brought up [in committee] and have a vote on it and hopefully get it back here to the floor.”

Vargas said that the issue is bigger than just Mississippi, which is under some pressure to redesign its state flag that features the Confederate battle flag in its upper left corner: “I don’t think the state should handle it. I think it’s a national issue. I think it should be handled by the United States of America, not by Mississippi.”

Miller, in a statement to CQ Roll Call, suggested she was concerned about hearing from Mississippians perhaps above all others. One member of the state congressional delegation, Republican Rep. Gregg Harper, is a senior member of the committee.

“Obviously, removing any state flag from our nation’s Capitol would be precedent-setting, something which requires much thought, deliberation and input from all parties, especially those from the state whose flag is being asked to be removed,” Miller said.

But the chairwoman, who is retiring in 2016, also hinted she is sympathetic to resolution supporters.

“I appreciate the Minority Leader introducing a revised version of Rep. Thompson’s resolution and look forward to hearing from more of my colleagues in the House as the Committee on House Administration gives these resolutions every serious consideration,” she said.

Miller continued, referring to the state of South Carolina’s Thursday action to take down the battle flag on the Capitol grounds: “I realize that as Chairman of the Committee on House Administration I am obligated to take into consideration input from all stakeholders. … However, speaking for myself, personally, I am proud of the South Carolinians for the action they took to remove what so many consider — including myself — this symbol of divisiveness.”

While it’s true Democrats could play some role in pressuring Republicans, their actions Thursday might have been alienating.

Republican leaders have tried to stress that when it came to the Interior-Environment Appropriations bill, they were trying to codify what the White House had expressed in a memo: That the Confederate flag should only be displayed in federal cemeteries on certain specific occasions. It was a compromise, they said, that shouldn’t preclude legislative action.

“I want members on both sides of the aisle to sit down and let’s have a conversation about how to address what, frankly, has become a very thorny issue,” Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, said at his weekly news conference Thursday.

He said he had a few “ideas” of what he had in mind for such a forum, and some thoughts on what members he would like to see engaged on the issue.

Shortly thereafter, Pelosi and fellow House Democrats came into the chamber to force a vote on her resolution. Chanting, “Vote! Vote! Vote!,” they banged their fists, stomped their feet and whistled “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” in what many veteran House observers say was unprecedented floor commotion.

Then, several gathered to accuse Republicans of being shortsighted, deceitful and intolerant.

“The Speaker offered a thoughtful and responsible way for dealing with this issue and Pelosi responded with a cheap political stunt,” said Boehner spokesman Kevin Smith, who wouldn’t say whether the events of Thursday took off the table the speaker’s desire for bipartisan collaboration.

When asked whether she had any conversations with Boehner about a working group or something of that nature, Pelosi scoffed.

“No, I haven’t had any conversations about it but what is that you have to study here?” Pelosi said. “This is simple. It’s about time. … Now they’re referring my resolution to committee and now they want to set up a commission. Let’s not waste one more minute to take down that flag.”


Pelosi’s Charge: How Democrats Cornered the GOP

Lawmakers on Both Sides Scramble on Confederate Flag

House Pulls Spending Bill Amid Confederate Flag Debate

Uproar Over Confederate Flag Blocks Interior-Environment Bill

Effort to Remove Mississippi Flag From Capitol Stalled

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