McCollum halts Confederate flag backers’ stealth move

Minnesota U.S. Rep. Betty McCollum, who doesn’t get a lot of media attention, is getting some in the national political press today for being on the ball and catching the late-night Republican shenanigans that sought to undo a ban on the Confederate flag at federal cemeteries.

McCollum, who is the ranking Democrat on the Interior-Environment Appropriations Subcommittee, was one of two Democrats “paying attention” after 20 hours of debate on an appropriations bill in the Interior-Environment Appropriations Subcommittee, according to Roll Call.

“All of a sudden, there was this slow lag,” McCollum said, “and (Rep. Ken) Calvert starts talking about wildfires and climate change and striking the last word,” the latter a parliamentary maneuver to keep talking beyond the time allotted.

The real red flag was the sudden appearance of leadership staff, namely senior aides for Appropriations Chairman Harold Rogers, R-Ky., and Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio.

“We’ve had really good communications between Republican staff and the Democratic staff on the Interior committee, but these were new folks who were kind of coming in,” McCollum went on. “And the next we knew there was this amendment being handed to us as the clerk was reading it.”

It took time to figure out what the point of the amendment was, because it didn’t specifically mention the Confederate flag.

McCollum and Rep. Chellie Pingree (D-Maine) raced to inform other Democrats what was going on.

Rep. Calvert, the person who introduced the amendment, later threw House leadership under the bus, and provided a sad glimpse of how the democratic process works.

Around the time Republican leaders announced they would no longer be holding a final passage vote on the Interior-Environment appropriations bill, Calvert sent out a statement.

“The amendment offered last night … was brought to me by Leadership at the request of some southern Members of the Republican Caucus,” he wrote. “To be clear, I wholeheartedly support the Park Service’s prohibitions regarding the Confederate flag and the amendment did nothing to change these prohibitions.”

“Any one of them could have asked for a roll call vote then, and nobody did,” [Idaho Republican Rep. Mike] Simpson said of the Republican opponents to whom Calvert referred. “None of them had the balls … they had Calvert do it, he got sucked into it.”

Rep. Raul M. Grijalva, D-Ariz., the ranking member of the Natural Resources Committee, said this about Calvert: “The chairman of that subcommittee has to fall on his sword. … He’s a decent guy — he knew this wasn’t right. And like a soldier he goes out and falls on his sword for the rest of them.”

“The result was embarrassment for a party that already has trouble with non-white America,” Washington Post columnis Dana Milbank wrote today.

Typical of the series of outraged speakers was Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.), who displayed the flag in the well of the House. “Had this Confederate battle flag prevailed in war 150 years ago,” he said. “I would be here as a slave.”

Boehner seemed not to know what to do about the mess his lowest-common-denominator leadership caused. He told reporters he had “some ideas” about a conversation on the subject, “and when I firm them up in my head, I’ll let you know.”

Here’s one idea: Show some leadership.

As Roll Call later reported, Boehner was.