Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said on Monday that the Confederate flag should not only be removed from near the Charleston state Capitol but also from all states around the country.
“The Confederate Battle Flag means different things to different people, but the fact that it continues to be a painful reminder of racial oppression to many suggests to me at least that it’s time to move beyond it, and that the time for a state to fly it has long since passed,” McConnell said in a statement. “There should be no confusion in anyone’s mind that as a people we’re united in our determination to put that part of our history behind us.”
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On Monday afternoon, Republican lawmakers in Washington began to call for the removal of the flag from Charleston, where a man allegedly opened fire at the Emanuel AME church and killed nine people.
House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) said removing the flag was appropriate under the circumstances.
“While our prayers continue to go out to the victims of these senseless killings, and their loved ones, I commend the elected leaders in South Carolina for coming to the decision that the flag should be removed from the state Capitol grounds,” Scalise said. “It’s the right thing to do.”
Paul Ryan, 2012 GOP vice presidential nominee, agreed with his former running mate, Mitt Romney, who tweeted on Saturday that the flag should go.
“Ryan agrees with Governor Romney. The state should recognize that the flag symbolizes hate to so many of its citizens,” Kevin Seifert, Ryan’s spokesman, e-mailed the Washington Post on Monday.
Former House speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.), in an e-mail Monday to the Post, said his position remains “unchanged” from 2011, when he said, “I have a very strong opinion. It’s up to the people of South Carolina.” Gingrich won the 2012 South Carolina GOP presidential primary.
Their remarks came as fellow Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham (S.C.), joined fellow South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley (R) and Sen. Tim Scott (R) at a press conference calling for the flag to be removed. Haley said that for many the flag stands for “respect, integrity and duty” and as a memorial for their ancestors but said it also represents oppression to many others. South Carolina Rep. Mark Sanford (R) supported Haley’s stance.
“The events of this past week call upon us to look at this in a different way,” Haley said. “It is time to move the flag from the capitol grounds.”
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Despite growing support from lawmakers both in South Carolina and in Washington, the path to removing the flag may be difficult because state law requires a vote of two-thirds of the legislature to remove the flag. The flag currently flies over a Civil War Memorial on the South Carolina capitol grounds. It was removed from the top of the capitol rotunda in 2000.
Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus has also called for the flag to be removed.
“Now is the time to do what is right, and I support the call by Governor Haley and South Carolina leaders to remove the Confederate battle flag from state house grounds,” said Priebus said.
Robert Costa contributed to this report.