Confederate Flag Debate Drives South Carolina Republicans To Struggle, Pray, Take Long Walks

COLUMBIA, SC - JULY 8:  A woman shows her support for the Confederate battle flag at the South Carolina state house July 8, 2
COLUMBIA, SC - JULY 8: A woman shows her support for the Confederate battle flag at the South Carolina state house July 8, 2015 in Columbia, South Carolina. South Carolina lawmakers will continue the debate today on whether to remove the flag from state house grounds. (Photo by Sean Rayford/Getty Images)

WASHINGTON -- Republicans in the South Carolina House of Representatives struggled with their pain over whether to take down the Confederate flag flying outside the state Capitol on Wednesday.

At issue was a bill to permanently remove the Confederate battle flag, widely viewed as a symbol of slavery, from the grounds of the South Carolina State House. The bill sailed through the state Senate on Tuesday and has the support of Republican Gov. Nikki Haley. But it faces an uncertain fate in the House, where one Republican has offered a wave of amendments in an apparent attempt to derail the legislation.

The flag came under renewed scrutiny last month when Dylann Roof allegedly murdered nine people, including a state senator, at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in a racially motivated attack. Photos have emerged online of Roof, who is white, displaying the Confederate flag.

But on Wednesday, the Republican state lawmakers who were debating whether to remove the flag emphasized their own misery, detailing long walks and consultations with religious leaders and complaining of intrusive late-night phone calls and criticism from outsiders.

Rep. Eric Bedingfield (R) -- who noted that he played sports with people "of all ethnicities" growing up and learned to see only one color, green, in the Marine Corps -- said that the debate grieved him. "I have literally struggled within myself over these things," he said. "I feel like the Lord has given me a lot of that in the last few days." He ultimately concluded that the solution sent over by the Senate was not "the solution that respects everybody."

"It made me take a walk around the state grounds," added Rep. Mike Ryhal (R). He said he found the bill problematic because he argued the language did not allow for flags to honor veterans, other than the U.S. and South Carolina flags.

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A lot of time was taken up with the numerous amendments introduced by Rep. Michael Pitts (R) in what's viewed as an obstruction effort. He proposed, among other things, planting the state flower in place of the flag and requiring that the U.S. flag flying on Capitol grounds be turned upside down. Lawmakers repeatedly rejected his proposals.

"I've taken a lot of abuse in the last couple days," Pitts said on Wednesday. In several long, rambling speeches, he spoke about his family history, claiming that poor people during the Civil War didn't know the fight was about states' rights and slavery. "I grew up with that flag ... as a heritage," he said.

Pitts said that he didn't see any problem with flying the Confederate flag, but he was willing to take the flag down if it bothered his colleague Lonnie Hosey, a Democratic representative who is black. Pitts added, however, that in the future, "I'll ask for something in return, because I believe in fairness."

Rep. W. Brian White (R) criticized the "outside forces" driving the debate over the flag. He said he had received a phone call at 10:30 the previous night on the issue. "There are folks in other time zones that don't respect the fact that we're sleeping," he said.

White also criticized President Barack Obama for saying "n****r" in a podcast, in which the president was pointing out that curing the country of racism will take more than just agreeing not to say certain words. White said use of that word really upset him and his family.

But Democratic state Rep. Grady Brown said that his colleagues were missing the point. "I have as much heritage as anyone in the world," he said, noting that his family has Confederate memorabilia, money, stamps and letters. Nonetheless, Brown said, "I'm voting to take the flag down because I think it is, in God's eyes, the right thing to do."



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