House

Dems: Confederate flag conversation ‘is over’

Greg Nash

House Democratic leaders on Thursday rejected calls by Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) for bipartisan “conversations” on the fate of the Confederate flag.

“What is it you have to study?” asked House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.). “Do we have to study hatred in its manifestations in the Confederate flag? This is simple. … Let’s not wait one more minute to take down that flag.”

{mosads}Boehner, just hours earlier, had proposed that “some adults here in the Congress” get together and discuss how to approach the flag’s future in public spaces. His comments were a response to the partisan fight over Democratic amendments restricting the flag that forced GOP leaders to scrap a Thursday vote on an Interior Department funding bill.

“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,” Boehner said during his weekly press conference.

The Speaker did not say what form the conversation would take, saying only that he’s weighing his options.

“I have some ideas, and when I firm them up in my head, I’ll let you know,” Boehner said.

But the Democrats said the flag debate — well over a century old — has endured too long. They’re urging GOP leaders to bring to the floor the same flag-restriction proposals the Republicans had killed just the night before.

“We have had this conversation for 150 years now, and now it’s time for thoughtful people to do what President Abraham Lincoln did at the end of the Civil War, and that was to take decisive action and to try to rid this country of white supremacy and bigotry and racism,” said Rep. G.K. Butterfield (D-N.C.), chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC). “And so, no, I do not support the idea of a commission. 

“The time for talking and having a conversation is over, and I think it’s time for action,” he added. “The House of Representatives needs to act immediately.” 

The perennial debate over the fate of the Confederate flag has reached a fever pitch in recent weeks, following the racially charged killing of nine parishioners at a historic black church in Charleston, S.C. 

The suspect in the shooting had posted an online manifesto against blacks, and his car boasted a Confederate flag license plate. His goal was allegedly to start a race war.

The enormity of the crime — and the prominence of the media coverage — put immediate pressure on supporters of the Confederate flag on and off Capitol Hill, who have long argued that it’s an important symbol of their southern heritage.

South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley (R) signed legislation into law Thursday that removes the flag from the grounds of the state capitol, and House GOP leaders this week accepted several Democratic amendments to the Interior bill that would bar the placement of the flag in national parks and cemeteries.

But after those amendments were approved Tuesday, dozens of conservative Republicans threatened to oppose the underlying Interior bill. Pelosi put the number at 100.

Faced with the probability that the GOP spending bill lacked the Republican support to pass on the floor, GOP leaders quietly moved to eliminate the Democrats’ flag amendments Wednesday night.

Boehner said Thursday that he himself opposes efforts to fly the Confederate flag in national cemeteries. But he also defended the shifting language of the Interior bill.

“I, frankly, supported the goal of trying to work with all the parties to address their concerns,” he said.

Democrats have pounced, and Pelosi on Thursday offered a privileged resolution barring Confederate flag symbols in much of the Capitol. The resolution would have forced the removal of Mississippi’s state flag, which includes a depiction of the Confederate emblem, from the House side of the building. 

GOP leaders, who effectively killed Pelosi’s resolution by shifting it to committee, have accused the Democratic leader of sabotaging an honest debate over the flag’s fate. 

“The Speaker offered a thoughtful and responsible way to address this issue and Pelosi responded with a cheap political stunt,” said Boehner spokesman Kevin Smith.

But the Democrats are hardly apologizing. They’ve long-accused GOP leaders of cowing to a Tea Party faction they deem out of step with the country. In the flag debate, they see a prime example of that dynamic at work — and an opportunity to highlight the issue for the voting public.

Pelosi argued that GOP leaders opted against debating her resolution not only because it would open the floor to Democratic attacks, but also because conservatives would seize the chance to defend the flag, embarrassing the national party.

“It’s highly unusual for a privileged resolution offered by the leader of one of the parties on the floor to be denied any, not one minute, of debate. They yielded back all of their time because they were afraid,” Pelosi said. 

“They were afraid of what our [Democratic] colleagues said here,” she added. “But I tell you, they were more afraid of what those 100 members of Congress might come to the floor and say.”  

Tags Boehner G.K. Butterfield John Boehner
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