The Republican-led House just approved an amendment to the Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA) spending bill that limits the display of the Confederate flag in federal cemeteries run by the VA. If the bill is signed, families will only be allowed to put small versions of the flag on graves on Memorial Day and Confederate Memorial Day.
The measure passed 265 to 159, but just 84 Republicans voted for it. Ahead of yesterday’s (May 19) vote, Pete Sanborn, legislative director for Lynn Westmoreland (R-Ga.), emailed a message meant to discourage support for the amendment. In it, he wrote that people who want to remove the flag are equivalent to ISIL, referring to one of the abbreviations used for the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Syria):
Rep. Westmoreland’s (R-GA) office using strong language urging House Rs to oppose Confederate flag amendment pic.twitter.com/Vbj8A8DBJW— Cristina Marcos (@cimarcos) May 19, 2016
The Hill reports that Westmoreland quickly issued a statement condemning the message: “I hold my staff to the highest standards and I am deeply disappointed by my staffer’s poor judgment. This unprofessional language is not tolerated and is distracting from the real issues Congress is working on. The staffer has been reprimanded and I assure you it will not happen again.”
But this isn’t the first time that office has been involved in a controversy centered on the Confederate flag. After the flag was attached to the racially-motivated mass shooting at a Black church in Charleston, South Carolina, Westmoreland himself defended it. Per The Washington Post:
“The majority of people that actually died in the Civil War on the Confederate side didn’t own slaves. These were people that were fighting for their states, and, you know, I don’t think they even had any thoughts about slavery,” said Rep. Lynn A. Westmoreland (R-Ga.).
He rejected the position of Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), a leader in the Civil Rights Movement, who called the flag a symbol of oppression.
“Does he understand where I’m coming from?” Westmoreland said. “Well, if I believe it comes from heritage, does he understand where I’m coming from?”