Con­fed­er­ate flag is­sue a hur­dle for GOP can­di­dates

Los Angeles Times - - THE NATION - By Brian Ben­nett and Kur­tis Lee brian. ben­nett @ latimes. com kur­tis. lee@ latimes. com

Repub­li­can pres­i­den­tial can­di­dates con­tin­ued to strug­gle Sun­day over how to re­spond to last week’s mass shoot­ing of nine black parish­ioners at a his­toric Charleston, S. C., church, par­tic­u­larly over the is­sue of whether the state should re­move the Con­fed­er­ate bat­tle f lag from its Capi­tol.

For­mer Arkansas Gov. Mike Huck­abee said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” that his fel­low GOP pres­i­den­tial can­di­dates were be­ing “baited” with a ques­tion that a fu­ture com­man­der in chief should not have to ad­dress.

“Peo­ple want their pres­i­dent to be fo­cused on the econ­omy, keep­ing Amer­ica safe, some re­ally big is­sues for the na­tion,” he said. “I don’t think they want us to weigh in on ev­ery lit­tle is­sue in all 50 states that might be an im­por­tant is­sue to the peo­ple of that state but not on the desk of the pres­i­dent.... I don’t per­son­ally dis­play it any­where. So it’s not an is­sue for me.”

His com­ments were echoed by two other 2016 GOP hope­fuls, Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas and Marco Ru­bio of Florida, who both said the is­sue should be left to South Carolini­ans.

The killing Wed­nes­day in Charleston rekin­dled the long- stand­ing dis­gust many feel about the f lag be­ing of­fi­cially f lown on state prop­erty. South Carolina’s Repub­li­can pri­mary comes early in the pres­i­den­tial elec­tion cy­cle, and the Con­fed­er­ate f lag has been an is­sue in pre­vi­ous pri­maries.

Sen. Tim Scott ( R- S. C.), one of two African Amer­i­cans to serve in the Se­nate, said Sun­day that the is­sue needs to be de­bated.

“There will be an on­go­ing con­ver­sa­tion, a real de­bate and dis­cus­sion about next steps,” he said on CBS’ “Face the Na­tion,” although he did not take a po­si­tion. “So that will be com­ing soon. And af­ter the fu­ner­als, we look for­ward to par­tic­i­pat­ing in it.”

Other Repub­li­cans, in­clud­ing for­mer Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and the GOP’s 2012 nom­i­nee, Mitt Rom­ney, called Satur­day for the f lag to be re­moved from the grounds of the South Carolina state­house, push­ing de­bate over the di­vi­sive sym­bol to the fore­front of the Repub­li­can pri­mary.

Rom­ney wrote on Twit­ter that many see the Con­fed­er­ate f lag as a “sym­bol of racial ha­tred,” and called for its im­me­di­ate re­moval. “Re­move it now to honor # Charleston vic­tims,” Rom­ney wrote.

Bush, who for­mally an­nounced his can­di­dacy last week, was more mea­sured, not­ing in a Face­book post that, in his home state of Florida, the Con­fed­er­ate f lag was moved from state grounds “to a mu­seum where it be­longed.” Bush ap­peared to fa­vor the same ap­proach for South Carolina.

“This is ob­vi­ously a very sen­si­tive time in South Carolina,” Bush wrote, and af­ter a “pe­riod of mourn­ing” for those killed at the Emanuel African Methodist Epis­co­pal Church, there will “rightly be a dis­cus­sion among lead­ers in the state about how South Carolina should move for­ward and I’m con­fi­dent they will do the right thing.”

South Carolina Sen. Lind­sey Graham, who is also run­ning in the Repub­li­can pri­mary and serves along­side Scott, said at­ten­tion on the f lag was mis­placed. Graham told CNN that the fo­cus should be on ac­cused gun­man Dy­lann Roof and that the Con­fed­er­ate f lag should not be used as “an ex­cuse” for the killings.

“We’re not go­ing to give this guy an ex­cuse about a book he might have read or a movie he watched or a song he lis­tened to or a sym­bol out any­where. It’s him ... not the f lag,” Graham said.

The is­sue came to promi­nence in the 2000 GOP pri­mary when Ari­zona Sen. John McCain and thenTexas Gov. Ge­orge W. Bush said the f lag was a state’s rights is­sue for the peo­ple of South Carolina to de­cide.

Af­ter the pri­mary, McCain ex­pressed re­gret, say­ing he had com­pro­mised his be­liefs while seek­ing the nom­i­na­tion.

Last week, civil rights lead­ers and Pres­i­dent Obama re­newed calls to re­move the f lag, which f lies at the top of a 30- foot f lag­pole near the South Carolina Capi­tol. Roof, 21, posed with a Con­fed­er­ate f lag and a pis­tol in a photo posted online be­fore the shoot­ing.

‘ There will be an on­go­ing con­ver­sa­tion, a real de­bate.... And af­ter the fu­ner­als, we look for­ward to par­tic­i­pat­ing in it.’ — South Carolina

Sen. Tim Scott

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