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Confederate Flag Debate Comes to the House

The Mississippi flag in the Senate subway tunnel. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

As lawmakers reflected on Confederate symbols in the Capitol, members of the House began to take legislative action on the hotly debated issue.  

Two measures were discussed in the House chamber Thursday: one pertaining to Confederate Battle Flag imagery in the U.S. Capitol, and another banning the iconography from the South Carolina Capitol and any government property. The latter, introduced by members of the Congressional Black Caucus, is an attempt for Congress to weigh in on the debate swirling around the banner at the Palmetto State's capitol following the murders of nine African-American church-goers in Charleston on June 17.  

"We acknowledge that demanding the removal of these hurtful images and symbols that represent decades of hatred and oppression is only the first step in addressing the racism plaguing our country, but we must also acknowledge that symbols matter," Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, II, D-Mo, said in a statement Thursday. "As the conscience of the Congress, we must exhibit an unyielding commitment to help this country solve its centuries old challenges with racism and prejudice."  

The CBC's resolution would call for the immediate removal of the Confederate Battle Flag from the South Carolina Statehouse; end sales of Confederate flag merchandise; remove "the symbolic and/or actual references to the Confederacy in the seven states where they still remain; and ban the use of the Confederate Battle Flag from any government property, including license plates.  

Before the CBC members introduced their resolution, the House voted on a procedural motion on another measure pertaining to the Confederate flag's place in the U.S. Capitol.  

Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., introduced a privileged resolution  banning the Confederate flag from the House and House office buildings, unless it is displayed at a member's office. The goal of his resolution is to remove the Mississippi state flag from the Capitol, which displays the Confederate battle flag in its upper left corner.  

"I'm convinced that an effort to remove this flag from the hallowed halls of the House of Representatives is the right thing to do," Thompson said on the floor.  

Due to the nature of Thompson's resolution, the House would have been forced to vote on the divisive issue, but on Thursday GOP leadership moved to send the resolution to committee, avoiding a floor vote for now.  

"I'm a big believer in the committee process to discuss all issues that come to the floor, especially one of this importance," House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., said on the House floor as he offered the motion to send the resolution to committee.  

The House voted along party lines, 240-184, to refer the resolution to the House Administration Committee. Rep. Curt Clawson, R-Fla., was the only Republican to vote not to send the resolution to committee.  

But House Administration Chairwoman Candice S. Miller, R-Mich., assured Thompson in a House floor speech that her committee would "give this measure every serious consideration and every thoughtful consideration." Miller said she was looking forward to hearing from Thompson, the other members of the Mississippi congressional delegation, and Mississippi's state government officials about the issue.  

One of Mississippi's representatives sits on the House Administration Committee, but he declined to take a position on the Thompson resolution Thursday afternoon. GOP Rep. Gregg Harper referred all questions about the resolution to Miller and told CQ Roll Call outside the House floor, "We're going to let the committee process work."  

Harper and two other members of the House delegation have yet to take a position on the Mississippi state flag, but both of the state's Republican senators said Wednesday the flag should be changed.  

These might not be the last resolutions of their kind. Thompson said Wednesday other members will likely move to address other Confederate symbols, such as statues of Confederate generals.  

“We’re going to do specifically the flag," Thompson said of his resolution. "There will be other efforts by other individuals to deal with some of the other symbols."

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