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S.C. Governor Calls For Removal Of Confederate Flag From State Capitol

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

Today, South Carolina's Republican governor called for the Confederate battle flag flying on the grounds of the state capital to be removed.

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NIKKI HALEY: This is a moment in which we could say that that flag, while an integral part of our past, does not represent the future of our great state.

BLOCK: Haley joined a growing chorus demanding that flag be taken down after last week's shooting at a historically black church in Charleston. Nine people were killed in what police say was a racially motivated attack. And NPR's Mara Liasson joins us now to talk about this. Mara, the Confederate flag has been the source of huge controversy in South Carolina and beyond for a very long time. This is a very big deal.

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: This is a big deal. It's very symbolic. The South Carolina has been fighting over this for a long time, as you said, and in 2000, they made a compromise. They removed the flag from the dome of the state capital and put it down on the ground so the state capital had a statue of a Confederate soldier. But since the killings, it has flown at full-staff while this flag of the United States and the state flag have flown at half-staff, and that's because there was a law in South Carolina that said only the legislature could bring the Confederate flag to fly lower.

BLOCK: Republican presidential candidates have been asked about this question, Mara, and have come up with a range of answers and demurrals. Why is this such a tough issue for them to figure out how to talk about?

LIASSON: Republicans just can't seem to figure out how to be the party of conservative white Southerners at the same time as they are reaching out to minorities. They have not been able to square that circle, and that's why you saw them kind of squirming and struggling this week.

BLOCK: You now do have Governor Nikki Haley, South Carolina's Senator Lindsey Graham, who is running for president, both calling for that flag to be taken down from the grounds of the capital. Have other Republican presidential candidates missed an opportunity here?

LIASSON: I think they have. The pathway was paved. Republican leaders like Mitt Romney tweeted over the weekend that the flag should come down because it's a symbol of racial hatred. That's a position he's had since 2008. John McCain said he was ashamed of himself for not calling for the flag to come down when he campaigned there in 2000. Jeb Bush didn't call for it to come down, but at least he understood what the right side of the argument was. And he found a way to fit it right into his campaign message, which is, I can fix big things because I did it in Florida. And he pointed out that he had moved the Confederate flag in Florida into a museum. But the other candidates said it was a decision for South Carolina. Mike Huckabee went as far as saying it's not an issue for presidential candidates. So they really were put in the position of running to catch up with the parade.

BLOCK: You know, over the weekend, Mara, it was revealed that some of the Republican presidential candidates had received political contributions from a man named Earl Holt. He's a white supremacist. He was named in the manifesto that appears to have been posted by the alleged shooter at Emanuel AME Church, Dylan Roof. What happened when that link to those contributions was discovered?

LIASSON: Well, the contributions went to Scott Walker, Rand Paul, Rick Santorum and Ted Cruz. All of them decided to return the contributions. Rand Paul and Rick Santorum gave the money to a fund for the victims in Charleston. Earl Holt runs something called the Council of Conservative Citizens, and since 2010, he has given more than $60,000 to Republican candidates.

BLOCK: OK. NPR national political correspondent, Mara Liasson. Mara, thanks.

LIASSON: Thank you. [POST-BROADCAST CORRECTION: A previous version of this story incorrectly referred to the Council of Concerned Citizens. The organization is actually called the Council of Conservative Citizens.] Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Corrected: June 21, 2015 at 11:00 PM CDT
A previous version of this story incorrectly referred to the Council of Concerned Citizens. The organization is actually called the Council of Conservative Citizens.
Mara Liasson is a national political correspondent for NPR. Her reports can be heard regularly on NPR's award-winning newsmagazine programs Morning Edition and All Things Considered. Liasson provides extensive coverage of politics and policy from Washington, DC — focusing on the White House and Congress — and also reports on political trends beyond the Beltway.
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