On Tuesday, the House unanimously passed three amendments curtailing the display of the Confederate flag in national parks.
Thursday, there will be a do-over.
As a marathon debate came to a close on the fiscal 2016 spending bill for the Interior Department and Environmental Protection Agency Wednesday evening, Rep. Ken Calvert, a California Republican, offered up an amendment that would alter previously passed amendments on the bill related to the sale of Confederate flag merchandise and the placement of the flag on graves on federal lands.
The amendment is set for a recorded vote Thursday, putting individual lawmakers on record on the display of the flag for the first time since the June 17 shooting that killed nine people in a historically black church in Charleston, South Carolina.
Calvert's amendment would reaffirm a National Park Service policy requesting the removal of merchandise featuring the Confederate flag as a symbol, set in place after the shootings. But it would scale back Tuesday's amendment from Rep. Jared Huffman, D-Calif., that sought to make the policy permanent on future contracts.
Calvert's amendment also would undo a separate Huffman provision that looked to ban the display of the Confederate flag on graves on federal lands. Current NPS policy allows certain local groups to place the flags on graves only on Confederate Memorial Day and removes them as soon as possible.
The provisions had previously passed Tuesday by voice vote with no one speaking in opposition, and so Calvert's move Wednesday was a surprise to Democrats, coming after 8:00 p.m., at the very end of the spending bill debate.
Calvert said simply that the amendment would codify existing National Park Service policy. An aide to Calvert said that his language would only undo language that goes beyond NPS policy and would not affect an amendment from Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, which would have blocked funding for the purchase and display of the Confederate flag on NPS land outside of a historical context.
Rep. Betty McCollum, who was leading debate for Democrats, said she could not "hide my surprise and my outrage," and she urged members to "stand with citizens of all races and remove all symbols of hatred from our national parks."
"We should uphold what this House stood for yesterday, which is to say no to racism, which is to say no to hate speech," she added.
In a statement, Rep. Nita Lowey, ranking member on the Appropriations Committee, said in a statement the amendment "would shamefully challenge the emerging national consensus that government must not countenance such a symbol of hatred and intolerance."
The vote allows Southern conservatives a chance to weigh in on the language. Rep. Steven Palazzo of Mississippi, for example, said in a statement Wednesday that he was upset that Tuesday's flag amendment had been "slipped into the bill in the dead of night with no debate."
"Members of Congress from New York and California cannot wipe away 150 years of Southern history with sleight-of-hand tactics," Palazzo said and vowed to fight the language.
A week after the racially motivated shooting at Charleston's Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, the Park Service said it would remove Confederate flag memorabilia from its bookstores and gift shops. The applied ban applied to stand-alone items; books and DVDs containing the flag would still be sold. The move followed similar actions by retailers such as eBay, Wal-Mart, and Amazon.
The amendments, however, may never become law. The White House has promised a veto of the spending bill because it relies on sequester spending levels and contains riders that would block several aspects of President Obama's environmental agenda.
This article is from the archive of our partner National Journal.
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