House Democrats are floating a legislative deal linking the thorny Confederate flag debate with expanded voting rights. [...] Rep. James Clyburn (S.C.), the third-ranking House Democrat, said Thursday that Democratic leaders will drop their push to attach flag-related amendments to appropriations bills, freeing Republicans to pursue their spending agenda, if GOP leaders will agree to consider an update to the 1965 Voting Rights Act, a central part of which was gutted by the Supreme Court in 2013.
With timing running out before Congress' August recess, the House of Representatives is supposed to be working on must-pass appropriations bills. Thanks to a bizarre fight over Confederate flags, that's not happening, though Democrats are offering GOP leaders a way out -- if they want it.
To briefly recap, Democrats introduced a measure curtailing the display of Confederate flags on graves in federal cemeteries and the sale of Confederate flag in national park gift stores. Southern Republicans balked and the mess has brought the entire process to a halt.
House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) told reporters last week that members are going to have to figure something out, but when asked what the remedy might be, the Republican leader replied, "I have some ideas. When I firm them up in my head, I'll let you know."
In reality, of course, Boehner hasn't the foggiest idea how to get out of this mess, which is why the appropriations process is facing an indefinite hold. The Hill reports today, however, that House Democrats are offering the GOP leadership a way out.
In theory, that's a pretty generous offer, though I have a hunch Republicans won't see it that way.
Before the Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act, support for the landmark civil-rights law was broad and bipartisan. George W. Bush celebrated its reauthorization in 2006, after it sailed through Congress with little resistance. The Senate vote on the VRA was literally unanimous.
But after the Supreme Court's ruling, congressional Republicans were free to abandon the VRA and its goals altogether. GOP lawmakers, en masse, ignored the proposed Voting Rights Amendment Act introduced in the last Congress, and they've already vowed to do the same to the proposed Voting Rights Advancement Act in this Congress.
Indeed, GOP leaders have been quite candid about their intentions. Asked if Congress should even try to repair the Voting Rights Act formula struck down by the Supreme Court, Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas), who voted for the VRA in 2006, recently replied, "No," blaming the Obama administration for having "trumped up and created an issue where there really isn't one."
House Democrats hope the breakdown in the appropriations process might cause Republicans to give the issue a fresh look.
It's important to note that Dems aren't asking for passage of a voting-rights law; they're just asking for a little effort.
"[T]he members of the Congressional Black Caucus and the full Democratic Caucus are willing to sit down with the Speaker and work out a way for us to allow the proper display and utilization of ... the flag in certain instances if he would only sit down with us and work out an appropriate addressing of the amendments to the Voting Rights Act," Clyburn said during a press briefing.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) is thinking along the same lines. Referencing the mass shooting in Charleston, the former Speaker said, "There has been an opportunity for the Republican majority not just to send a condolence card or show up at a service but to translate that into action. And we are now segueing from the conversation about the flag to a conversation about voting rights."
Your move, Mr. Speaker.