Following the South Carolina Senate’s quick decision to remove the Confederate flag from the Capitol grounds, and the state’s House of Representatives’ overwhelming 94-20 vote, the bill was signed into law late Thursday by Gov. Nikki Haley. The state now has 24 hours to remove the flag.
Thursday’s debate in the run up to the House vote became emotional, particularly for Republican Rep. Jenny Horne, who, as a descendent of Confederate President Jefferson Davis, provided personal insight.
“I’m sorry, I have heard enough about heritage,” she said, urging the House to “Remove this flag and do it today. Because this issue is not getting any better with age.”
The issue was initially acknowledged by Haley, who called for the flag’s removal after the Charleston massacre that left nine innocent churchgoers dead at the hands of Dylann Roof, a white supremacist who was frequently photographed with the Confederate flag.
After the vote, Horne expressed relief but could not forget the tragedy that brought the state to this point.
“It’s bittersweet, because it took a tragedy to bring this body to this decision,” she said, adding, “I am so proud to be a South Carolinian and proud of what South Carolina has done to move this state forward.”
Haley signed the bill finalizing the flag’s removal in South Carolina, but it appears the battle to remove it from federal land is not over just yet.
Congress is currently dealing with a back-and-forth between the Democrats and Republicans when it comes to whether the flag can fly on certain U.S.-owned land and whether flag-based merchandise can be sold at souvenir shops located on government land.
House Democrats proposed two amendments to add to the annual spending bill: one prohibiting the flag from flying at federal cemeteries; the other prohibiting National Park Services gift shops from selling flag merchandise. Both were approved in a vote.
But on Wednesday, the Republicans proposed an amendment of their own to the Interior-Environment Appropriations bill. This amendment would allow, in some instances, the flag to fly in National Park Service cemeteries. The GOP alleged that the proposal simply followed in line with already existing Obama administration directives, one of which states that park workers are to restrict Confederate flag displays and merchandise — but not remove — and another that also allows the flag to be flown on “certain state-designated Confederate Memorial Days.”
Democratic Representatives were less than impressed by the measure, which New York Rep. Steve Israel called a “late-night, backdoor strategy.”
Rep. Nita Lowey, the top Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee, also found the move apprehensible:
Tonight, after nearly 20 hours of debate on the Interior and Environment Appropriations Act and approval of three amendments banning sale and display of the Confederate flag in national parks and cemeteries administered by the National Park Service, the Republican majority introduced an amendment reversing course … The [Rep. Ken] Calvert amendment would shamefully challenge the emerging national consensus that government must not countenance such a symbol of hatred and intolerance.
Democrats emphasized that the allowance of these amendments does nothing but “undo progress,” as Rep. Israel described it, which has already taken so long to achieve.
Ultimately, the Republicans pulled the bill entirely. Republican Ohio Rep. and Speaker John A. Boehner, who clarified that he personally supports the removal of the flag from federal lands, said “That bill is going to sit in abeyance until we come to some resolution.”
Acknowledging his own opposition of the amendments, he said the “adult” Congressmen had to have a conversation about the bill.
“I do not want this to become some political football,” Boehner said. “It should not.”
But for South Carolina, the “political football” is over. After the vote, Gov. Haley said: “It is a new day in South Carolina, a day we can all be proud of, a day that truly brings us all together as we continue to heal, as one people and one state.”