In the wake of the tragic terrorist murders at a historic black Charleston church, the South Carolina legislature finally moves to remove the Confederate flag from the grounds of the capitol, the U.S. House of Representatives has been taking measures of its own to restrict the use of the flag on federal property.
Some activists have decried the focus on the flag because it's an easy way to ignore other issues surrounding the killings, but as it turns out, banning the flag isn't such an easy lift, after all. On Wednesday night, House Republicans added an amendment to the Department of the Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act that would nullify several proposed restrictions on the Confederate flag:
It would trump amendments from Rep. Jared Huffman (D-Calif.) that would block the National Park Service from allowing private groups to decorate graves with Confederate flags specifically in cemeteries in Georgia and Mississippi and would bar the Park Service doing business with gift shops that sell Confederate flag merchandise.
Rep. Betty McCollum (D-MN) immediately spoke out against the amendment, which was offered by House Interior-EPA Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Ken Calvert (R-CA), and urged her fellow members to "stand with the citizens of all races and to remove this symbol of hatred from our national park service."
Given the opportunity to defend his amendment, here's what Rep. Calvert had to say:
"I urge adoption of the amendment."
There's an argument to be made that private citizens ought to be able to decorate graves as they see fit (a wrong argument, since we wouldn't permit swastikas in federal cemeteries), but given the chance to say anything at all about why he would weaken restrictions on the flag, Calvert offered nothing.
The amendment will come up for a vote Thursday afternoon, but regardless of how this turns out, history will record that it was Republicans, in South Carolina and Washington, DC, who stood in the way of our country's attempt to finally move past the very basic concept of not displaying racist, traitorous flags on government property. Shame on them.
Update: The House has canceled the vote on the Calvert amendment. Consider that bell still rung.
At Thursday's White House press briefing, Press Secretary Josh Earnest blasted Republicans for holding up the appropriations bill in defense of the Confederate flag, failing to denounce Donald Trump's "race-baiting rhetoric," and electing a leader who once compared himself to David Duke:
"Republicans in Congress, however, seem to have values and priorities that lie elsewhere. Right now, the interior appropriations in the House is jammed up because a sizable number of House Republicans are eager to protect the status of the Confederate flag on National Park Service grounds."
"These are the same House Republicans who voted for a leader who once described himself as 'David Duke without the baggage,' thee are the same Congressional Republicans who have declined to criticize the race-baiting rhetoric of a leading Republican presidential candidate. That's to say nothing of the Senate Republican who saluted that candidate. So when you hear me say that Congressional Republicans have an agenda that is out of step with the vast majority of Americans, this record, at least in part, is what I'm referring to."
This is also the first time Earnest has directly addressed Trump's comments.