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House Votes to Lower Confederate Flag at Cemeteries

Republicans also reject LGBT amendment by single vote after members switch sides

A Democratic amendment to the defense bill would have withheld funding from any educational institution that flies the Confederate flag. (Tom Williams/Roll Call file photo)
A Democratic amendment to the defense bill would have withheld funding from any educational institution that flies the Confederate flag. (Tom Williams/Roll Call file photo)

The House voted Thursday to effectively bar the Confederate flag from flying over some federal cemeteries, defusing a debate that threatened to revive a stand-off that derailed the entire appropriations process last year.  

In its first roll call ever on the flag, the House voted 265 to 159 on an amendment to prohibit federal spending at veterans cemeteries that raise the “stars and bars.” The amendment was part of a spending bill for military construction and veterans affairs that later cleared the chamber.  

The night before, though, the House passed a defense authorization bill that included language allowing the Citadel military college in South Carolina to continue displaying the Confederate symbol.  

Shortly after Thursday’s flag vote, the House rejected an amendment on another hot-button issue, protecting the LGBT community from discrimination by federal contractors. The measure failed by one vote, 212-213, after several members changed their votes, provoking an angry outburst from Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer, D-Md.  

“We had 217 votes for nondiscrimination right up until the last minute,” Hoyer said, recounting several procedural irregularities.  

Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi weighed in later, saying in a statement, “House Republicans are so committed to discriminating against LGBT Americans, that they broke regular order to force their Members to reverse their votes and support Republicans’ bigotry.”  

Earlier in the week, a bipartisan group failed to strip language from the defense authorization bill that they feared would allow contractors to discriminate based on religious beliefs. Thursday’s proposal would have prohibited any conduct that would undermine a 2014 executive order against discrimination.  

The flurry of amendments on the Confederate battle flag was the latest salvo in a longstanding political and social conflict that generated new controversy following the murders of nine black parishioners in a South Carolina church last year. The suspect had displayed an image of the rebel flag on his license plate.  

Debates about removing the flag from public buildings swept across Southern states last summer, after the South Carolina legislature voted to remove it from State House grounds.  

But it wasn’t until House Democrats managed to derail a $30 billion spending bill that Republicans in Washington agreed to bring the debate to Congress, ultimately dropping an amendment that would have allowed the flag’s display at national cemeteries.  

The proposal on the table Thursday, from Rep. Jared Huffman  was similar to those debated last year. It prohibited the use of federal funds to display Confederate flag imagery in Veterans Administration cemeteries.  

“To continue to allow national policy to condone the display of this symbol on federal property is wrong,” the California Democrat said. “It’s past time to end the public promotion of this cruel, racist legacy of the Confederacy.”  

Huffman’s bill came to the floor hours after the failed bid to force the Citadel to stop flying the battle flag over its chapel or risk losing U.S. military support for its ROTC program on campus. That amendment failed largely along party lines, 243-181.  

Republicans have said Congress should not interfere with decisions at the Citadel, which is supported by state funding.  

Jennifer Shutt contributed to this report.