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Miller delays vote on removing Miss. flag from House

Melissa Nann Burke
Detroit News Washington Bureau

Washington — U.S. Rep. Candice Miller, chairwoman of the House Administration panel, has told committee Democrats that she has put on hold the proposal to remove the Mississippi state flag from the House and House office buildings — for now.

Miller, a Republican from Harrison Township, wants first to hear from Mississippi colleagues in Congress and in the state Legislature, which doesn’t reconvene until January.

“Without a doubt, the unprecedented step of removing a state flag from our nation’s Capitol would be a most serious act and something which requires thoughtful deliberation and input from all parties, especially from those whose flag is being debated for removal,” Miller wrote in a Thursday letter to Democratic Reps. Bob Brady of Pennsylvania and Zoe Lofgren and Juan Vargas, both of California.

She assured them she intends to “give thoughtful and serious consideration to this proposal.”

A month ago, House Republicans abruptly scrapped plans for a vote to permit the display of Confederate flags at National Park Service-run cemeteries, reacting to protests from Democrats including Reps. Dan Kildee of Flint Township and Brenda Lawrence of Southfield.

That same day, the South Carolina Legislature voted to remove the same flag from a pole on the grounds of the state Capitol.

The flag’s removal came after the fatal shooting of nine members of the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church on June 17. The suspect will be charged with a federal hate crime, U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch said last week.

The proposal before Miller’s committee is sponsored by Rep. Bennie G. Thompson, D-Mississippi, who has offered a resolution to remove Mississippi’s and any other state flag containing the Confederate battle flag from the House side of the Capitol and from House office buildings. The flags would be donated to the Library of Congress.

“It is uncontroverted fact that symbols of the Confederacy offend and insult many members of the general public who use the hallways of Congress each day,” Thompson’s resolution reads.

Continuing to display a “symbol of hatred, oppression and insurrection” would “irreparably damage” the reputation of the Congress and the dignity of the House of Representatives, it concludes.

Thompson, the only black member of Mississippi’s delegation, has said the resolution was assigned to Miller’s committee to avoid a “tough” vote.

In a July 8 letter to Miller and Brady, Thompson called for “swift” and “immediate action” by the Administration committee, offering to appear before the panel any time on the “important and pressing issue.”

“I do not feel that there is much investigation or fact-finding that needs to be done,” Thompson wrote.

“The Confederate States of America was a treasonous group of rebels who made every effort to tear apart this country and continue their traditions of enslavement and oppression of the Black people.”

In a July 9 letter, committee Democrats Brady, Lofgren and Vargas urged Miller to take up the Thompson resolution and a similar resolution by Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi “in earnest.”

They offered several alternatives on how to proceed, including holding hearings, marking up the resolutions, offering their own, or a less-formal option, such as asking the superintendent of House office buildings to remove any emblem that includes the Confederate battle flag in its design.

“If a majority of the committee opposes the measure, let them vote in public and explain why,” the Democrats wrote. “We consider this a serious matter that deserves serious attention and a serious solution.”

In her response, Miller reiterated her personal feelings of admiration for the South Carolinians who voted to “remove what so many consider — including me — this symbol of divisiveness.”

She noted that the Mississippi lawmakers are set to begin their next session in 2016, and “have said they plan to address the issue at that time.”

Miller said she would welcome the Democrats’ playing a “constructive role” and urged them to forward suggestions regarding specific individuals or scholars that the panel should hear from during its deliberations.

mburke@detroitnews.com

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