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Five things to know about the House Confederate flag fight

Five things to know about the House Confederate flag fight
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The national debate over the Confederate flag hit the House with all its force on Thursday.

Republicans had to pull a spending bill from the floor due to a fight over the divisive symbol, and Democrats pounced, seizing on an opportunity to cast the GOP as behind the times.

At issue was legislation over whether the Confederate flag may be planted at federal cemeteries run by the National Park Service (NPS).

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Here are five things to know about the fight.

The Confederate flag may not fly from a federal cemetery flagpole

Existing National Park Service policy already prevents the Confederate flag from being flown on any cemetery flag pole on its grounds.

Only the American flag and, on certain days, the POW/MIA flag are authorized to fly. 

The policy dictates that small Confederate flags can be displayed at the gravesites of Confederate veterans only in states that recognize a special Confederate Memorial Day, which includes many states in the South.

Under the policy, “sponsoring groups” are allowed to decorate the graves of Confederate veterans with the flags on that day, but they “will be removed from the graves as soon as possible following the designated Confederate Memorial Day.” 

14 national cemeteries include Confederate veteran graves

The National Park Service administers 14 national cemeteries around the United States. 

Very few Confederate veterans are buried at those cemeteries, according to a parks spokeswoman.

There are 18 Confederate graves at Poplar Grove Cemetery in Virginia, nine at Gettysburg Cemetery in Pennsylvania, two each at Shiloh Cemetery in Tennessee and Mississippi’s Vicksburg Cemetery and only one at Andersonville Cemetery in Georgia.  

The NPS said individuals occasionally place Confederate flags at those gravesites, but they are removed by cemetery personnel, as with any other items left on graves.

A new policy was issued after the Charleston shootings

After the June 17 killings of nine African-Americans at a historically black church in Charleston, S.C. — allegedly at the hands of a man who had taken photos posing with the Confederate flag — the Obama administration instituted a new policy for how National Park Service gift shops can sell Confederate flag memorabilia. 

The policy directed gift shops to remove items that depict the Confederate flag as a standalone feature. Educational items like books or documentaries would still be allowed.

That policy, from NPS Director Jonathan Jarvis, reiterated that, “Confederate flags should not be flown in units of the national park system” except where they provide historical information, such as troop locations on battlefields.  

The House has approved a tougher policy

On Tuesday, the House approved by voice vote an amendment to ban any Confederate flag at NPS cemeteries, even in Southern states on days commemorating the Confederates.

They also approved an amendment to not only remove Confederate flag items from gifts stores now but to block the park service from entering into contracts with companies to sell them in the future. 

Rep. Jared Huffman (D-Calif.) sponsored both of the amendments to an Interior Department spending bill.

In both cases, no Republican rose to oppose the amendments, including Rep. Ken Calvert (R-Calif.), who was leading the floor debate. The amendments passed on voice votes. 

GOP amendment would reverse changes

Late Wednesday night, in the waning hours of debate on the spending bill, Calvert introduced a short, paragraph-long amendment that would undo both of Huffman's measures and keep current policies in place.  

Democrats objected, and GOP leaders later pulled the Interior bill from the floor. 

Republican aides acknowledged that several Republican members had opposed the Democrats’ Confederate flag amendments and threatened to undermine the full Interior spending measure unless they got the chance to vote against them. 

One member, Rep. Steven Palazzo (R-Miss.), told a local television station that he would fight the amendments. 

“Congress cannot simply rewrite history and strip the Confederate flag from existence,” he said. “Members of Congress from New York and California cannot wipe away 150 years of Southern history with sleight-of-hand tactics.”

It’s not clear what will happen next for the underlying spending bill, but it does not appear to have the support to make it off the House floor.

Most Democrats were already opposing it, and Palazzo and other Republicans will vote against it because of the Confederate flag language.

“That bill is going to sit in abeyance until we come to some resolution,” Speaker John BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerPelosi and Trump go a full year without speaking Jordan vows to back McCarthy as leader even if House loses more GOP seats On The Trail: How Trump lost the law and order debate MORE (R-Ohio) said on Thursday.