WASHINGTON (AP) — The House is about to put its members on record on whether Confederate flags can briefly decorate rebel graves in historic federal cemeteries and if their sale should be banned in national park gift shops.
Thursday's vote comes after southern lawmakers complained they were taken by surprise two nights ago when the House voted — without a recorded tally — to ban the display of Confederate flags at historic federal cemeteries and strengthen Park Service policy against its sale in gift shops.
The earlier voice vote came on an amendment to a measure funding the National Park Service, which maintains 14 national cemeteries, most of which contain graves of Civil War soldiers.
Existing Park Service policy is to briefly permit display of the flag in cemeteries located in states that commemorate Confederate Memorial Day, which appears to limit its display to the Andersonville and Vicksburg cemeteries in Georgia and Mississippi.
Thursday's vote would preserve existing Park Service policy permitting limited display and also overturn an earlier vote that would have banned the agency's concessionaires from selling Confederate flags and would have prohibited the inclusion of the Confederate image on items like belt buckles and pins.
The re-vote was scheduled after southern lawmakers protested Tuesday's unrecorded tally. That vote was taken during a slightly-attended debate and after most lawmakers had left the Capitol. It's hardly unusual for House leaders to take a pass on forcing members to go on record on controversial subjects.
"Congress cannot simply re-write history and strip the Confederate flag from existence," said Rep. Steve Palazzo, R-Miss. "Members of Congress from New York and California cannot wipe away 150 years of Southern history with sleight-of-hand tactics."
It's unclear how Thursday's vote will turn out, but momentum against the flag's display on public land skyrocketed after last month's slaughter at nine worshippers at a historic black church in Charleston, South Carolina. Early Thursday, the state legislature finalized a bill to remove the flag from statehouse grounds.
Democrats were outraged about the GOP maneuvering, which was orchestrated by Rep. Ken Calvert, R-Calif., on Wednesday night.
"We should make sure that we uphold what this House stood for yesterday, which is to say no to racism, which is to say no to hate speech," said Rep. Betty McCollum, D-Minn.