By Barnini Chakraborty
With South Carolina poised to take down its Confederate flag on Friday, the debate is quickly expanding to all symbols of the Confederacy -- and causing consternation among lawmakers.
The conflict over the Confederate flag spread to Capitol Hill Thursday in a politically-charged and emotionally-draining display from both House Democrats and Republicans, who accused each other of using the controversial and thorny topic as political leverage to advance their own agendas.
House Republicans abruptly abandoned plans to vote on a spending bill that included a provision to allow flying the Confederate flag in cemeteries operated by the National Park Service.
The vote would have reversed action the House had taken only hours earlier to ban the flags and underscores how toxic the fight over the flag – as well as other symbols linked to the Confederacy – has become.
“I actually think it is time for some adults here in the Congress to actually sit down and have a conversation about how to address this issue,” House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said. “I do not want this to become some political football. It should not. So I would expect you will see some conversations in the coming days.”
About an hour later, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., offered legislation to remove all state flags containing any portion of the Confederate battle flag emblem from the House side of the Capitol.
Republican lawmakers prevented the vote by referring it to a committee, while Boehner’s spokesman, Kevin Smith, accused Pelosi of pulling a “cheap political stunt.”
White House spokesman Josh Earnest questioned Republican priorities during his daily press briefing and said there was a sizeable group of GOP lawmakers who were “eager to protect the flag.”
Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz also jumped into the drama, calling it an “example of the GOP’s abhorrent tone-deafness to what is happening across the nation in the wake of the Charleston tragedy.”
When the dust settled, any real action to continue or prohibit flying the Confederate flag on park service land appeared far off. First, the House amendment would have to be adopted. If it were to become law, it would take several more steps and need to pass the Senate, as well.
The Washington fallout came the same day South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley signed a measure into law to remove the Confederate flag from statehouse grounds where it has flown for more than five decades.
Before signing the legislation, Haley said the act of love and faith by the nine black victims who were gunned down by a white man during Bible study at Emanuel African Methodist Church, had set in motion a chain of events that led to the flag’s removal. The man who has admitted to murdering the members of the Charleston church had been photographed multiple times standing in front of the Confederate flag.
Since then, states and towns across the country have been debating how to respond to the national momentum to remove Confederate symbols not only from government buildings but also from schools, streets and other public places. Questions linger over Confederate memorabilia, its place in society and the message it sends.
Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, a Republican, said Thursday he supports the removal of some Confederate symbols, but called extreme measures to take down all symbols “political correctness run amok.”
In the past, Hogan has supported a move to remove the Confederate flag from specialty license plates, but pushed back Thursday against efforts to alter or remove official state symbols that have Confederate links, including the state song and state flag.
“Some of this other stuff to me... is really going too far. And it's political correctness run amok. Where do we draw the line?” he said.
In Nashville, a painting featuring an image of the Confederate flag was removed from the restaurant Acme Feed & Seed after complaints from patrons and criticism of both the establishment and one of the city’s mayoral candidates –an investor in the company – surfaced.
And even Walt Disney World turned political on Thursday, The amusement park announced it has taken down a banner bearing the Confederate flag was from a display of flags in Epcot’s American Adventure.