In a surprise, Republicans late Wednesday moved to overturn limits on the sale and display of the Confederate flag that had been approved a day earlier by the U.S. House, setting up a showdown vote for Thursday on whether the National Park Service should allow sales of the flag and on how the Confederate flag should be displayed at certain federal cemeteries.
The move was unexpected, coming as lawmakers were quietly finishing debate on a spending bill that covers operations of the National Park Service.
Rep. Ken Calvert (R-CA), the lead Republican on the measure, had been giving final wrap-up remarks about the legislation, when he suddenly interrupted his own speech to offer an amendment that would nullify several actions taken by the House on Tuesday related to the Confederate flag.
“This amendment will codify existing National Park Service policy and directives with regard to the decoration of cemeteries and concessions sales,” Calvert said hurriedly, speaking for less than ten seconds about his plan.
The move left the main Democrat on the bill clearly stunned.
“I cannot hide my surprise and my outrage that we find ourselves here tonight,” said Rep. Betty McCollum (D-MN), who seemed totally caught off guard at the GOP effort to overturn votes from a day earlier on the Confederate flag.
McCollum went to Twitter minutes later to slam Republicans:
The original move to limit the display of Confederate flags at some cemeteries in the deep South and to block the sale of Confederate flag memorabilia had drawn no opposition on Tuesday when it was brought up on the House floor.
Three amendments limiting the sale and display of the Confederate flag had been approved by voice vote, as not a single member rose on the House floor to oppose the efforts, all part of a funding bill for the Interior Department.
“We can honor that history without celebrating the Confederate flag, and all the dreadful things that it symbolizes,” argued Rep. Jared Huffman (D-CA).
But as news spread about the two amendments from Huffman, and one from Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY), it was obvious there were misgivings, especially among Republicans I quizzed from the South.
That led to the offering of a surprise amendment, which will put the House on the record about the Confederate flag, and whether it should be sold in National Park Service gift shops and book stores, as well as whether the rebel flag should be displayed at some federal cemeteries on a regular basis.
The plan seems likely to draw substantial opposition from Democrats, like Rep. Chellie Pingree of Maine:
It will be the first time the Congress has voted on any measure related to the Confederate flag since the issue erupted in the wake of the killing of nine black church parishioners last month in Charleston, South Carolina.