The White House criticized House Republicans for holding up an Interior Department appropriations bill on Thursday over amendments related to the Confederate flag.
The House was about to move the bill with language that would have prevented the Confederate flag's display on federal grounds, when Republicans tried to change that language. That prompted House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, to stop the bill and announce that a "conversation" about how to deal with the flag was needed before work resumed.
White House spokesman Josh Earnest said that delay showed that House Republicans have "values and priorities that lie elsewhere."
He said the Interior bill "is jammed up in the House because a sizable number of House Republicans are eager to protect the status of the Confederate flag on National Park Service grounds," Earnest said. These are the same Republicans who elected into leadership a man who once described himself as "David Duke without the baggage," Earnest said, referring to past comments by House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, about the former Ku Klux Klan leader.
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House Republicans also refuse to "criticize the race-baiting rhetoric of a leading Republican presidential candidate, and that is to say nothing of a Senate Republican who saluted that candidate," Earnest said, referring to Donald Trump's derogatory comments about Mexicans. "So when I say that Republicans have an agenda that is out of step with the vast majority of Americans, this record, at least in part, is what I am referring to," he added.
Earnest noted that the National Park Service has already taken steps to pull merchandise from gift shops bearing the Confederate flag.
"Distorting fact to try and score cheap political points is no way to honor the victims of the horrific crime" in Charleston, S.C., Boehner spokesman Cory Fritz shot back shortly after Earnest made his remarks. "These childish attacks are completely dishonest, and beneath the dignity of the office of the presidency."
Earlier Thursday, Boehner called for "adults ... to sit down and have a conversation" about how to address the race and cultural issues that last month's massacre in a black church in Charleston unleashed.
"We all witnessed the people of Charleston and the people of South Carolina come together in a respectful way to deal with, frankly, what was a very horrific crime and a difficult issue with the Confederate flag," Boehner said, according to his office. "I do not want this to become some political football."