House Republicans pulled a measure that included an amendment to allow Confederate flag imagery to remain displayed on graves and cemeteries on federal land in some circumstances — a move that followed passionate pleas from a diverse cadre of lawmakers Thursday to remove the divisive symbol.
The ensuing back-and-forth further fanned a national debate over the flag and its symbolism.
Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., who is African American, spoke on the U.S. House floor Thursday morning standing with a large Confederate flag next to him and urged his colleagues to vote against the amendment. He called sentimental attachment to the flag “historic amnesia.”
“Mr. Speaker, if this Confederate battle flag prevailed in war 150 years ago I would not be standing here as a member of the United States Congress, I would be here as a slave,” Jeffries said in an impassioned floor speech.
He was followed by a line of speakers, many of them members of the Congressional Black Caucus, who denounced the amendment.
The brouhaha began when Rep. Ken Calvert, R-Calif., offered the amendment late Wednesday night to the 2016 Interior-Environment spending bill. The bill had already been worked through, with members offering amendments, for several hours.
Calvert’s was the final amendment added to the bill.
“This amendment will codify existing National Park Service policy and directives with regard to the decoration of cemeteries and concession sales. I urge adoption of my amendment,” Calvert said when offering the amendment.
Calvert said in a statement released later, the same night state lawmakers in South Carolina debated removing the Confederate flag from their state’s capitol grounds in the wake of fatal shootings of nine black church members, some southern members of the U.S. House Republicans came to GOP leadership and asked him to offer the measure.
House Speaker John Boehner, an Ohio Republican, said during a press conference Thursday the action was an attempt to codify the Obama administration’s directive to national cemeteries. He added that while he did not feel Confederate flags should be at federal cemeteries, he did not want the issue to “become some political football.”
“Listen, we all witnessed the people of Charleston, and the people of South Carolina come together in a respective way to deal with frankly what was a very horrific crime and a difficult issue with the Confederate flag,” he said. “I actually think it’s time for some adults here in the Congress to actually sit down and have a conversation about how to address this issue.”
Officials say the killings of nine parishioners at Emanuel AME Church when a gunman opened fire during a bible study session last month were racially motivated. After the massacre, photos emerged showing Dylann Roof, the self-confessed gunman, holding the Confederate flag.
“I stand here with chills next to it,” Jeffries said during his remarks on the House floor.
Rep. Betty McCollum, D-Minn., said she was in “strong opposition” to the amendment when it was offered on the House floor Wednesday night and noted she was “quite surprised that we find ourselves here tonight.”
“We have read about the divisive tactics happening in the South Carolina state house as they debate the removal of the Confederate flag after the murder of nine black parishioners. I never thought that the U.S. House of Representatives would join those who would want to see this flag flown by passing an amendment to ensure the continuing flying of the Confederate flag,” McCollum said on Wednesday. “I strongly urge every member to stand with the citizens of all races and to removal this symbol of hatred from our National Park service.”
The Minnesota Democrat also noted that this amendment would essentially undo two amendments adopted the previous day.
House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Maryland, speaking on the House floor Thursday called the amendment “shameful” and urged both his Republican and Democratic colleagues to vote against the amendment when it comes up for a vote in the afternoon.
“I urge my colleagues, let us do the right thing and reject this amendment and send a powerful message about what America truly represents: equality, justice, respect for one another, freedom for all,” Hoyer said.
Calvert acknowledged that the amendment stoked an emotional backlash.
“Looking back, I regret not conferring with my colleagues on the other side of the aisle, especially my Ranking Member Betty McCollum, prior to offering the Leadership’s amendment and fully explaining its intent given the strong feelings members of the House feel regarding this important and sensitive issue,” he said.
This article first appeared on NBCNews.com.