One of the unexpected consequences of last summer’s brutal massacre at Charleston’s Emanuel AME Church was a renewed debate over public display of the Confederate flag. In fact, less than a week after the nine African-American parishioners were murdered, South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley (R) endorsed removing the Confederate battle flag from the capitol grounds.
A month later, on Capitol Hill, congressional Democrats said it was time to curtail the display of Confederate flags on graves in federal cemeteries and the sale of Confederate flags in national park gift stores. Southern Republicans balked.
It took nearly a year, but the political conditions appear to have changed. The Post and Courier in Charleston reported yesterday:
The House of Representatives voted to bar the Confederate flag from being flown at cemeteries operated by the Department of Veterans Affairs in the latest movement against displaying the rebel banner at federal sites. […]Eighty-four Republicans joined with nearly all of the Democrats in the 260-164 vote in favor of the amendment. All six of the Republicans in the South Carolina delegation voted against it.
It’s not, however, a done deal. The policy was added as an amendment to a larger defense spending bill, and since the Senate and House bills differ, it’ll be a while before lawmakers send a package to the White House. Even then, depending on the final outcome, we don’t know whether President Obama will sign the broader legislation.
But the fact that the amendment passed at all represents progress that wasn’t possible a year ago. Most Republicans opposed yesterday’s measure, but not enough to prevent it from passing.
Before moving on, however, it’s worth noting just how much some on the right opposed the amendment. ThinkProgress noted yesterday:
Before the vote, a staffer working on behalf of one of the Republicans who voted against restricting the Confederate flag, Rep. Lynn Westmoreland (R-GA), distributed an email comparing those who support the measure to ISIS.“You know who else supports destroying history so that they can advance their own agenda? ISIL. Don’t be like ISIL. I urge you to vote NO,” Westmoreland’s legislative director, Pete Sanborn, wrote, signing the email, “Yours in freedom from the PC police.”
The congressman’s office later denounced the message and said they don’t reflect Westmoreland’s views. Let’s not forget, however, that the Georgia Republican, who once referred to President Obama as “uppity,” has long offered support for the Confederate flag, often in cringe-worthy ways.