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South Carolina House Debates Removing Battle Flag From Capitol Grounds

KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

Lawmakers in South Carolina are again debating the removal of the Confederate battle flag from the grounds of the State House. The Senate overwhelmingly passed the measure yesterday. The House is now taking up the issue, and it has not been an easy debate. Representatives, including Republican Michael Pitts, have promised dozens of amendments that would delay passage of the bill. Here's Pitts speaking on the floor earlier today.

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MICHAEL PITTS: I'm willing to remove that flag from the poll at some point. But at some point, I'll ask for something in return because I believe in fairness. I believe in balancing of scales.

MCEVERS: WFAE's Tom Bullock has been monitoring today's debate, and he joins us now. Tom, debates started before noon. Where do things stand now?

TOM BULLOCK, BYLINE: Well, so far, Kelly, the debate has been a bit one-sided. We mostly heard from state representatives who want the Confederate battle flag to say - stay exactly where it is. And the reasoning, really, is what we've heard for some time now. The flag represents heritage, not hate. The Civil War was really about states' rights and not slavery, and that South Carolina lawmakers should not bow to pressure from outsiders, including the media. There was one new argument that we heard, though, that has to do with honoring vets. Here's what Republican Eric Bedingfield had to say.

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ERIC BEDINGFIELD: What if we did not honor veterans in the way we should? What if we didn't honor the people who fought in the Vietnam War or World War I or World War II?

BULLOCK: And Bedingfield said Confederate soldiers deserve a monument just like everyone else. Now, a big reason we've only heard from one side of the debate so far is the fact that the South Carolina House is still going through proposed amendments to the bill that was passed yesterday by the Senate.

MCEVERS: And what are some of these amendments?

BULLOCK: Well, luckily, most - you know, they promised about a dozen, maybe two dozen, possibly three dozen amendments. In the House, we actually saw 36 amendments brought forward. Most of those were withdrawn earlier today, but seven still remain. And so far, they would all remove the Confederate battle flag from where it is now, but they would replace it with something else. One called for a monument to a Cherokee chief who fought alongside the Confederate Army. Another would replace the flagpole with a display case in which the current Confederate flag would be placed. And there were others that would replace it with a flower bed. One that would basically replace the current flag with lesser-known Confederate banners. And so far, all amendments have been voted down by the South Carolina House.

MCEVERS: And the bill needs a two-thirds vote to pass and then, of course, Governor Nikki Haley's signature. At this point, what are the chances that that will happen?

BULLOCK: Well, let's start with the House. Right now, it's - the short answer is it's very likely that it's going to happen. If you go back and look at those votes on the amendments, they have passed, you know - let me rephrase that. The votes on the proposed amendments haven't even been close. And opposition seems to be vocal, but small. So that, though, may change during the actual vote on the actual bill, which will happen sometime later today early. Earlier, the Charleston Post and Courier had been polling lawmakers, and they found the House had just enough votes to pass the measure. But since that time, a group calling itself the Conservative Response Team has launched a robocall campaign targeting certain representatives that they see could be a swing vote on the issue. So we'll have to see if that or anything else has an effect on the actual vote. Now, as to Haley, Governor Haley has claimed that she would sign the bill if it comes to her without any amendments.

MCEVERS: And if it does get that signature, how soon before the Confederate battle flag is officially removed?

BULLOCK: Well, we're not exactly sure on that yet. Under South Carolina law, the House will need to vote on the bill twice on two separate days to pass it, which means the flag could come down late Thursday or sometime Friday, if it remains without the amendments because Haley has said that she would, in fact, sign it very quickly. But if anything changes and the Senate has to be brought back into the picture, we're not really sure.

MCEVERS: That's Tom Bullock of member station WFAE. Thanks so much, Tom.

BULLOCK: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tom Bullock decided to trade the khaki clad masses and traffic of Washington DC for Charlotte in 2014. Before joining WFAE, Tom spent 15 years working for NPR. Over that time he served as everything from an intern to senior producer of NPR’s Election Unit. Tom also spent five years as the senior producer of NPR’s Foreign Desk where he produced and reported from Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, Haiti, Egypt, Libya, Lebanon among others. Tom is looking forward to finally convincing his young daughter, Charlotte, that her new hometown was not, in fact, named after her.