South Carolina’s leading federal lawmakers and the 2016 Republican presidential field are split over what to do about the Confederate flag that flies on the statehouse grounds.
Questions about the flag, a perennial political issue during South Carolina’s presidential primary, have resurfaced in the wake of what law enforcement officials are calling the racially-motivated killings of nine people inside historic Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston.
House Assistant Democratic Leader James Clyburn, D-S.C., the highest-ranking African-American official in the House of Representatives, said the flag needs to be removed.
“That is a flag of rebellion,” Clyburn said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “So when you see the resurrection of this, a young man (shooting suspect Dylann Roof), twenty- one years old, wearing all of these apartheid things on his shirt, burning the United States flag..And glorifying the elongated version of a battle flag, certainly you're creating a climate that allow this kind of thing to happen.”
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Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., appearing Sunday on CBS’ "Face The Nation," said the Confederate flag is part of the "rich and provocative history" of the state and acknowledged that it also "represents pain and oppression" for some Palmetto State residents.
He declined to articulate a position on the flag Sunday but vowed to be an active participant in discussions about the flag and race relations in the aftermath of Wednesday’s deadly shootings.
"My voice will be clear," Scott, who is one of two African-American senators, said Sunday. "My position will be stated. I'm not going to make any breaking news here. I have made the commitment to wait until after the funeral to start that debate. And I'm going to honor that commitment."
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., a 2016 presidential candidate, speaking on CNN Friday, said "at the end of the day it’s time for people in South Carolina to revisit" the 2000 compromise that moved the flag from atop the statehouse to the grounds.
"(That) would be fine with me, but this is part of who we are," Graham said. "The flag represents to some people a civil war, and that was the symbol of one side. To others, it’s a racist symbol, and it’s been used by people, it’s been used in a racist way."
Of the compromise that shifted the flag on the statehouse grounds, Graham said "It works here."
Republican presidential candidates are split on what to do about the flag. The question became amplified along the campaign trail after former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, the 2012 Republican presidential candidate, tweeted Saturday "Take down the #ConfederateFlag at the SC Capitol. To many, it is a symbol of racial hatred. Remove it now to honor #Charleston victims."
Some insist it’s a state issue. Former Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pa., told ABC’s "This Week" Sunday" that “I don't think the federal government or federal candidates should be making decisions on everything … opining on everything. This is a decision that needs to be made here in South Carolina."
Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee had a similar view, telling NBC’s "Meet the Press" voters don’t want candidates giving their views on every "little issue in all 50 states."
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker urged more time and debate. "I think they're going to have a good, healthy debate — and should have a healthy debate in South Carolina amongst officials at the state level," he said Saturday. "I think out of deference, before we have that discussion, we should allow the families of the loved ones to bury their dead."
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Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, told The Washington Post Saturday that while he understands both sides of the issue, it’s a matter for South Carolina residents to decide.
"Both those who see a history of racial oppression and a history of slavery, which is the original sin of our nation, and we fought a bloody civil war to expunge that sin," he said.
On another side of the debate were those who said the flag should dome down. Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who is expected to announce his presidential bid in the next few weeks, said in a statement Saturday "This is up to the people of South Carolina to decide, but if I were a citizen of South Carolina, I'd be for taking it down."
Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, and then Secretary of State Katherine Harris, had a Confederate flag quietly removed from the Florida state Capitol in 2001. At the time Bush said "I thought it was appropriate to take those flags down and put them in the museum where people can appreciate our heritage, but not have them fly as a symbol of what we are today as a state."
Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., asked Saturday if the flag should come down, The Miami Herald reported that Rubio said, "Ultimately the people of South Carolina will make the right decision for South Carolina and I believe in their capacity to make that decision. The next president of the United States will not make that decision. That’s up for the people of South Carolina to make, and I think they’ll make the right one like they’ve made them in the past."
Rubio said he supported taking down the flag in Florida. He also supported a measure saying no war artifacts "may be relocated, removed, disturbed, or altered."
Republican White House hopeful Carly Fiorina, speaking to reporters at last week’s Faith and Freedom Coalition’s conference in Washington, said the Confederate flag is "clearly a symbol that is very offensive to many, but my personal opinion is not what's relevant here."
She added that "What's relevant here is what the people of South Carolina choose to do next."