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U.S. House votes to limit display of Confederate flag

In a stunning reversal from less than a year ago, members of the U.S. House voted Thursday to block the display of the Confederate flag under most scenarios at cemeteries overseen by the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Eighty-four House Republicans voted with all but one Democrat, Sanford Bishop of Albany, to adopt the amendment to a government spending bill.

Here's the Associated Press' description:

The 265-159 vote would block descendants and others seeking to commemorate veterans of the Confederate States of America from flying the Confederate Battle Flag over mass graves, even on days that flag displays are permitted.

All of Georgia's 10 GOP congressmen voted against the amendment. Two of the top three House Republicans, Kevin McCarthy of California and Steve Scalise of Louisiana, voted in favor of the provision.

Bishop had this to say about his vote against the amendment:

"While as a descendant of slaves, I find the Confederate flag and the history it represents deeply offensive, I believe that the descendants of Confederate veterans should not be denied the privilege of honoring their dead ancestors two days of the year on a flagpole where their beloved are buried in mass graves." 

A similar amendment torpedoed the entire appropriations process last summer after Southern lawmakers were put in the politically awkward spot of voting on the issue weeks after racially-motivated shootings left nine black parishioners dead in Charleston, South Carolina. Then-Speaker John Boehner pulled the underlying spending bill from the floor before votes could be cast.

Jamie Dupree of WSB Radio was kind enough to send this sound clip of U.S. Rep. Jared Huffman, D-Calif., speaking in favor of the ban:

More background from Dupree:

It was the second time in recent days that Democrats had pushed a vote on the floor of the House in relation to the Confederate flag; earlier, Democrats used a procedural motion to demand that the flag be removed from the Citadel.

While that was rebuffed by Republicans, the cemetery effort was approved as part of a broader spending bill that covers the operations of the VA.

Ryan's office is framing the vote as another example of how things are different under the Wisconsinite's leadership compared his predecessor. From Politico: 

Ryan's willingness to even bring the amendment up for a vote marked a sharp break with past leadership strategy, and suggests he plans to stick by his commitment to taking tough votes on spending bills where the rules give members wide latitude to offer amendments.

“If you’re going to have a true open process you can’t prevent members from offering germane amendments on the floor,” a GOP leadership source said before the vote. “If you want an open process, and all of our members have said they do, that also enables Democrats to put up amendments as well.”

Correction: an earlier version of this article misstated that Speaker Paul Ryan voted in favor of the Confederate flag amendment. He did not cast a vote, as is custom for the speaker of the House.

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About the Author

Tamar Hallerman is The Atlanta Journal-Constitution's Washington correspondent, covering Congress, federal agencies and other government activities that impact Georgia.