House Republicans pull Confederate flag vote after firestorm

UPDATE: 11:30 a.m. -- U.S. House Republican leaders have yanked a controversial vote on keeping Confederate battle flags in national parks, following a reversal and a firestorm.

The vote would have put Southern lawmakers, in particular, in a tough spot, on record as to whether they support allowing the flag to be placed by graves in some limited. House leaders decided today to cancel all votes on a spending bill for the Interior Department and other agencies.

"That bill is going to sit in abeyance until we come to some resolution on it," House Speaker John Boehner said at a news conference.

Democrats had spent the morning bashing the GOP. Rep. David Scott, D-Atlanta, told us the vote was "a shocking development." He added:

"Hopefully at the end of today this mess will be cleaned up here and we’ll be able to take the knife out of the wound."

Rep. Jody Hice, R-Monroe, said this morning he planned to support the amendment:

"From what I understand at this point the amendment that’s coming to the floor now simply codifies existing law that’s been in place for five years, which allows the states to recognize the historical significance on dates of their choosing, while at the same time recognizing sensitivities that many people have with the flag.

"I’m just glad that Georgia dealt with this issue [with the state flag] years ago and in the right way, and so you know this law, this amendment would allow Georgia and the states to dictate it. And Georgia’s handled it right."

A series of voice votes Tuesday night had added language to the spending bill banning all Confederate flags at National Park Service cemeteries. That went too far in the minds of many Southerners, according to a GOP aide, and they wanted an up-or-down vote on the issue and could have sunk the whole spending bill if their concerns were not addressed.

The controversial amendment would have kept the limitations on Confederate memorabilia at gift shops mandated by the Obama administration, but would have allowed small Confederate battle flag displays at certain times at graves -- consistent with current policy, but overturning the earlier vote to ban them completely.

After the political firestorm erupted, House leaders decided to scrap the vote and regroup.

Original post:

The U.S. House is tying itself in knots on the Confederate flag issue, with a big vote now slated for today to allow the display and sale of the battle flag in National Parks -- which would overturn measures approved by a unanimous voice vote late Tuesday.

The original move to limit the display of Confederate flags at some cemeteries in the deep South and to block the sale of Confederate flag memorabilia had drawn no opposition on Tuesday when it was brought up on the House floor. ... But as news spread about the two amendments from [California Republican Rep. Jared] Huffman, and one from Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY), it was obvious there were misgivings, especially among Republicans I quizzed from the South.

That led to the offering of a surprise amendment, which will put the House on the record about the Confederate flag, and whether it should be sold in National Park Service gift shops and book stores, as well as whether the rebel flag should be displayed at some federal cemeteries on a regular basis.

The National Park Service severely limited the sale of Confederate flag merchandise in gift shops last month after the Charleston church massacre. The policies would apply to the Andersonville National Cemetery in Sumter County. But they would not become law right away, if at all.

The amendments are attached to a funding bill for the Department of the Interior and other agencies that has already drawn a veto threat from President Barack Obama, who wants a deal to allow for higher spending levels. The Senate has not acted on its version of the bill.


Early this morning, the South Carolina House voted to remove the Confederate battle flag from the state's capitol grounds. The key was this speech by state Rep. Jenny Horne, a descendant of Confederate president Jeff Davis:


There are signs of progress -- or at least negotiations -- over the fate of Georgia's state-issued Sons of Confederate Veterans license plates.

You'll recall that Gov. Nathan Deal called for a redesign of those tags in the aftermath of the Charleston shootings, leading to an immediate halt in sales of the plates. The group responded by demanding a meeting with Deal's staff and a push to retain some sort of image of the Rebel emblem on the plates.

State Department of Revenue spokesman Nick Genesi reports that the department's officials have sat down with the group to discuss the process.

Whether they'll reach some sort of accord remains unclear. The Confederate heritage group has let it be known, in a dispatch to its members, that it has consulted its lawyer and could take legal action "if the problem is not remedied immediately.”


Over on the subscription side, our AJC colleague Kristina Torres writes of a Wednesday press conference in which state Sen. Josh McKoon called for Georgia to bar illegal immigrants from practicing law and teaching in the state’s public schools. The Columbus Republican also said the state should keep a public registry of such immigrants who commit crimes.

But that is far from the most controversial thing McKoon said – at least, if you’re a fellow member of the state Senate. From the video:

“I intend to introduce a resolution in next year’s session that would allow members to vote on changing our Senate rules to end the practice of unrecorded votes on the floor of the state Senate.

“I’ve heard it said that the unrecorded hand vote, known as ‘rise, stand and be counted,’ is necessary to speed up debate. Those of us dedicated to government accountability reject the premise that duly elected state senators – for any reason – should ever cast a vote on any issue that cannot be readily visible and noted by our constituents.

“After serving in the Legislature for five years, I can say with a degree of certainty that we do not suffer from a lack of time to deliberate. But rather, the time we have is not being appropriately prioritized.”


Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, former mayor Andrew Young and a major labor group have lined up behind Mereda Davis Johnson in the July 14 runoff for District 5 seat on the DeKalb County Commission.

Mereda Johnson, the wife of U.S. Rep. Hank Johnson, faces Lithonia community activist George Turner in the second round of voting in the special election.

From Reed:

“Mereda is a leader and problem solver who is deeply interested in building consensus as DeKalb works to meet its challenges. You can count on her to be a thoughtful, responsive leader who has an unwavering commitment and heart for her community.”

Mereda Johnson was also endorsed by the North Georgia Labor Council, which is led by state Rep. Dewey McClain.


State Rep. Margaret Kaiser, D-Atlanta, will keep her seat through the end of next year, after which she plans a run for mayor.

Even so, the race to replace her is in full swing. The Rev. Josh Noblitt, a Democratic candidate for House District 59, will report raising $31,209 in today’s campaign finance filing – four times the amount of his nearest competitor.

Noblitt is on staff with St. Mark's United Methodist Church and vice president of NPU-Y. He’s making opposition to “religious liberty” legislation a key component of his campaign.


Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker will formally announce his presidential candidacy on Monday. And then he'll head this way, according to CNN:

[An] aide, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the schedule has not been released publicly, said he will also take a detour off of the well-worn path of traditional early voting states in his first full week on the campaign trail to visit Georgia, one of several southern states holding primaries on March 1. The March primaries are being billed as "Super Tuesdays" -- because several states will be voting on the same day.


In defense of Jimmy Carter: The New York Times writer Nicholas Kristof offers a lengthy tribute to the 90-year-old native Georgian. A snippet:

It’s true that Carter sometimes floundered as president. He also had great difficulty, as an outsider, managing Washington, and suffered from a measure of anti-Southern prejudice. When the Reagans took over 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, their interior decorator reportedly couldn’t wait to “get the smell of catfish out of the White House.”

But Carter was also a pioneer. He was the first to elevate human rights in foreign policy. He appointed large numbers of women, Latinos and blacks. He installed solar panels on the White House (President Reagan removed them). He established diplomatic relations with China...

Carter, the one-termer who was a pariah in his own party, may well have improved the lives of more people in more places over a longer period of time than any other recent president. So we in the snooty media world owe him an apology: We were wrong about you, Mr. President. You’re not a lightweight at all, and we can’t wait to see what you’ll do in your next 90 years!


The U.S. House voted Wednesday to pass a rewrite of the No Child Left Behind law that limits the federal government's role in public education, seen as a conservative marker in conference negotiations with a bipartisan Senate bill being debated this week.

But tea party groups and conservative pressure organizations such as Heritage Action for America had urged Republicans to oppose the bill because it did not go far enough to limit the federal role. One email forward we saw from the "American Principles Project" claimed the House bill "Denigrates Parental Rights and Seizes State Sovereignty."

The only Georgia Republican to vote no was Rep. Jody Hice, R-Monroe.

The rest portrayed it as plenty conservative. Here's the headline from Rep. Tom Graves, R-Ranger: "Tom Graves Votes to Repeal No Child Left Behind, Stop Common Core."


This is an economic, political and national security issue to keep an eye on. Our AJC colleagues Jeremy Redmon and Mark Davis report on the premium site:

The U.S. Army is planning to cut as many as 40,000 soldiers at home and abroad over the next two years — including about 4,350 in Georgia — as part of an overall military retrenchment, according to Army and congressional sources.

The Army would shrink to 450,000 troops by the end of fiscal year 2017. Meanwhile, Fort Stewart near Savannah would lose 950 troops, while Fort Benning outside of Columbus would shrink by 3,400. Fort Gordon in Augusta would grow by 40 soldiers.

U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson said the cuts will make the U.S. more vulnerable amid Russian aggression in Ukraine and the war against the Islamic State.

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