- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 9, 2015

South Carolina will pull the Confederate battle flag down from a Statehouse memorial Friday, but the national debate over the flag showed no sign of waning as Democrats in Washington, sensing momentum, moved to furl state flags at the Capitol that still include Confederate symbols.

Gov. Nikki Haley, a Republican, signed a bill Thursday to remove the flag from the South Carolina Capitol grounds, saying it was a fitting tribute to the nine parishioners who were killed last month in a racially motivated shooting at Charleston’s Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church.

In Washington, Republicans were left in disarray after their congressional leaders had to scratch a planned vote in defense of flying the Confederate battle flag or selling flag-inspired memorabilia at National Park Service sites. They were concerned that voting to defend the flag at the same time South Carolina was overturning decades of tradition to pull it down would be an embarrassment.

“I do not want this to become some political football. It should not,” said House Speaker John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican. “I want members on both sides of the aisle to sit down — let’s have a conversation to address what, frankly, has become a very thorny issue.”

Democrats brushed aside Mr. Boehner’s calls for a time-out and said the issue has been settled. They pointed to South Carolina, the first state to secede from the union ahead of the Civil War, as proof that times have changed.

“It’s long past the time to put away the Confederate battle flag,” said House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat.

Seeking to continue the debate, she led a charge to take down state flags with Confederate emblems from the halls of the House, saying Congress should not lend its imprimatur to a “symbol of hatred, oppression and insurrection.”

She and fellow Democrats proposed a resolution that would remove all such flags except those flown in the offices of representatives from those states.

House Republicans turned back the effort in a near party-line vote and sent the proposal to a committee for further study.

Democrats, sensing a political opening, have begun petition drives and fundraising efforts for their campaign to remove the flag. They vowed not to be deterred by the parliamentary maneuvers.

Mr. Boehner is likely to be pressured to make good on his vow to sponsor a conversation on the role of the flag in the public space.

In South Carolina, where the debate has raged for decades, the Legislature gave bipartisan final approval early Thursday to a bill to remove the flag. Ms. Haley’s signature was the exclamation point that ended an extraordinary few weeks of debate since the shooting.

“Nine amazing people that forever changed South Carolina history,” Ms. Haley called the victims — parishioners who prayed for an hour with the accused gunman before they were killed.

In the days after the shooting, Dylann Roof was tied to racist statements, and pictures surfaced of him waving a Confederate battle flag, reigniting the debate over the emblem’s role in racial divisions in the 21st century.

Reversing their stand

A number of prominent South Carolina Republican lawmakers reversed their stance and distanced themselves from the flag, which flew atop the Statehouse before it was brought down and placed at the memorial on the Capitol grounds as part of a 2000 compromise.

The flag will be removed from that memorial at 10 a.m. Friday and put into a museum.

After Ms. Haley signed the bill, the NAACP canceled its 15-year boycott of South Carolina.

“Today is an extraordinary moment in the life of the nation,” NAACP President Cornell William Brooks said, though he added that the flag was a symbol of racism and bigotry that still exist and must be confronted in other ways.

It appeared Tuesday that Congress was moving to follow the lead of South Carolina. House lawmakers agreed to amendments to the Interior Department spending bill, which funds the National Park Service, that would have stopped the sale of merchandise with the Confederate flag “as a stand-alone feature” at concessions within the park system.

The House also approved amendments prohibiting the Park Service from displaying the flag except in specific circumstances for historical context. The Obama administration issued a similar policy late last month.

But Wednesday night, Rep. Ken Calvert, California Republican, moved to restore the previous Park Service policy. A vote was slated for Thursday afternoon.

With the prospect of that vote within minutes of Ms. Haley’s signature on a bill to remove the flag, Republican leaders backed off and Mr. Boehner called for a cooling-off period. He pulled the Interior Department spending bill from the schedule and said it would hold until lawmakers could have an “adult” conversation about how to address the flag controversy.

Confederate flags fly at a couple of national parks, and some graves in federal cemeteries are decorated with flags on Confederate Memorial Day. Concessionaires at some parks also sell memorabilia featuring flags.

In the wake of the Charleston shooting, Park Service Director Jonathan B. Jarvis ordered gift shops and bookstores to stop selling three types of Confederate flags — the battle flag, the Stainless Banner and the Third National Confederate Flag — and asked concessionaires to voluntarily withdraw merchandise based solely on a Confederate flag.

Books, videos and other materials that show the flag in historical context may continue to be sold, Mr. Jarvis said. He said it’s up to each park superintendent to figure out which merchandise falls into which category.

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