POLITICS

House Votes To Remove Confederate Flag From VA Cemeteries

What a difference a year makes.
House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) recently expressed support for removing Confederate flag images from the&nbsp
House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) recently expressed support for removing Confederate flag images from the Capitol.

In a sign of just how quickly things can change on Capitol Hill, the House adopted an amendment on Thursday to remove Confederate flags from cemeteries run by the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Less than a year ago, it was a Confederate flag amendment that derailed the entire appropriations process in the House, with Republicans unwilling to vote on a proposal to remove even one Confederate flag image -- found on the Mississippi state flag -- from one hallway in the Capitol.

On Thursday, the vote on the amendment from Rep. Jared Huffman (D-Calif.) to remove Confederate flags from VA cemeteries sailed through the House, 265-159, with 84 Republicans joining all Democrats but one -- Sanford Bishop of Georgia -- to support the amendment. Another Democrat, Betty McCollum (Minn.), was present for the vote but chose not to vote for or against the amendment. 

It's a dramatic shift for the House Republican conference. Just 10 months ago, GOP leadership was so afraid of their members voting on the Confederate flag that they shut down the appropriations process.

Now, in the first spending bill to reach the House floor this year, GOP leadership not only allowed the amendment, they voted for it.

Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) and Conference Chairwoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.) all voted for the Huffman amendment. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), as speaker, typically does not vote, though he recently expressed his support for removing Confederate flag images from the Capitol.

"Last year, it stopped the appropriations process in its tracks," Ryan said Thursday.

But Ryan pointed to less of a philosophical change on the flag and more of a need for the House to get through the issue. What's changed, he said, is the understanding that the House has to get through these types of amendments if it is to have an open legislative process that allows anyone to offer an amendment.

"People are going to have to take tough votes," Ryan said, adding that Republicans realized that "the last thing we should do is derail our own appropriations process."

After the vote, Huffman expressed disappointment that there wasn't broader support for the amendment.

“While I appreciate that today's vote represents progress, it is shameful that two thirds of the House Republican Caucus voted against this commonsense measure," he said in a statement. "Symbols like the Confederate battle flag have meaning. They are not just neutral historical symbols of pride, they represent slavery, war, lynchings, and tragedy. To continue to allow national policy condoning the display of the Confederate battle flag on federal property would be wrong and disrespectful to our past."

This post has been updated with additional voting information and a statement from Huffman.

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