House Republican leaders decided to yank a bill on Thursday that would have allowed Confederate flags in federally run cemeteries. The decision comes on the same day South Carolina decided to remove the flag from its own state capitol.
The move came after House Democrats blasted the GOP proposal that emerged Wednesday night, saying it undermined efforts to limit the use and sale of Confederate flags in national parks and grave sites.
The evolution over the flag debate spanned several late nights.
The House of Representatives approved two measures late on Tuesday that would remove Confederate flags and merchandise featuring the flag’s image from some federal sites.
Both amendments, which passed with voice votes, were attached to the annual spending bill funding the Interior Department so they were limited to issues related to that agency. One amendment bars federal grave sites controlled by the Interior Department from displaying Confederate flags and the other directs gift shops at National Park Service facilities to stop selling any merchandise that shows the flag’s image.
These House votes come after a national debate about the Confederate flag’s symbolism erupted after a white man who posed with the flag and expressed racist sentiments murdered nine African-Americans at a church in Charleston last month.
But another, GOP-backed amendment – one that would allow some restricted display of Confederate flags in National Park Service cemeteries – is scheduled to get a vote on Thursday. Democrats blasted it following debate on Wednesday night, and claimed the GOP was seeking to undo the previously adopted amendments.
Republicans say the new amendment “codifies the Obama administration directive from last week” that allows park service superintendents to restrict the display of Confederate flags at Graves and restricts merchandise.
Some Southern GOP members expressed concerns that the amendment banning on Confederate flags at grave sites would prevent those constituents who want to mark graves once a year of family members with the flag from doing so, according to one GOP source.
The controversial amendment would reinforce two Obama administration directives, one from 2010 that limits Confederate flags at grave sites to certain state-designated Confederate Memorial Days only, and one issued June 29, that allows park superintendents to determine what items may be appropriately sold at concessions stands.
But Rep. Nita Lowey, the top Democrats on the House Appropriations Committee, blasted the GOP move on Wednesday night and urged members to oppose it.
“Tonight, after nearly 20 hours of debate on the Interior and Environment Appropriations Act and approval of three amendments banning sale and display of the Confederate flag in national parks and cemeteries administered by the National Park Service, the Republican majority introduced an amendment reversing course,” she said in a statement. “The Calvert amendment would shamefully challenge the emerging national consensus that government must not countenance such a symbol of hatred and intolerance.”
Also condemning the amendment was Rep. Steve Israel, D-New York, who called the proposal the result of a “late-night, backdoor strategy.”
“Once again, House Republicans are proving that they are the party that takes every opportunity to undo progress,” he said in a statement.
The South Carolina House is scheduled to vote soon on legislation to remove the Confederate flag from the State House grounds in Columbia, South Carolina. The State Senate approved a bill to take down the flag on Tuesday.
Rep. Jared Huffman, D-California, sponsored both amendments and praised leaders from both parties in several states across the U.S. who moved quickly after the shooting to remove the flag from government property and license plates.
“With the consideration of the Interior Appropriations bill, this House has the opportunity to add its voice by ending the promotion of the cruel, racist legacy of the Confederacy,” Huffman said during a brief debate on the House floor on Tuesday night.
Huffman said the National Park Service already asked vendors to voluntarily stop selling flags, belt buckles and other items with the Confederate symbol, but he decided to add the directive into legislation because not all gift shops have agreed. The amendment that passed doesn’t impact current contracts, but would bar any companies signing new contracts with the Park Service from selling items featuring any Confederate imagery.
Large national retailers like Walmart and Amazon have already announced they would no longer sell products that feature the Confederate flag.
Last month the House voted to postpone a debate on a resolution sponsored by Mississippi Democratic Rep. Bennie Thompson that would have removed his state’s flag, which includes a Confederate symbol, from the U.S. Capitol. That resolution was referred to the House Administration Committee, but it’s unclear when it will get a vote by the full House of Representatives.
Although the votes on both amendments to the Interior funding bill were unanimous, they are likely just symbolic.
The Obama administration has already pledged to veto the GOP-crafted spending bill over separate issues. The White House and congressional Democrats argue the bill includes steep budget cuts for the Environmental Protection Agency and other agencies, and are urging Republicans to negotiate a broader bipartisan budget deal.
CNN’s Dana Bash contributed to this report.