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Confederate Flag in South Carolina to Come Down?; S.C. Gov. Calls for Flag to be Moved From State Capitol. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired June 22, 2015 - 16:00   ET


JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Good afternoon. Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

We have some breaking news. The South Carolina Confederate Battle Flag could finally be coming down. South Carolina's governor, Republican Nikki Haley, is set in just minutes to come out and address reporters.

The Charleston "Post and Courier" and other news outlets in the Palmetto State report that she is expected to call for the rebel flag to be taken down and folded up. It's a particularly sudden reversal for Haley, who said just Friday it was too soon to have this conversation.

Defenders of the flag say it is a symbol of Southern heritage. Of course, its detractors say the only heritage it stands for is that of hate and slavery. Haley said that her state needed to heal first after that horrific attack last week before having this debate.

That racist terrorist, of course, last Wednesday defiling Mother Emanuel Church in Charleston, South Carolina, slaughtering nine people in a terrorist attack -- now reports say, of course, that Haley is, instead of deferring this conversation, currently working with state lawmakers to figure out just how soon they can take the flag down.

Our Drew Griffin is in Charleston, but I want to start with Ana Cabrera. She's in Columbia, South Carolina, where Governor Haley is supposed to speak at any minute.

Ana, Charleston's mayor has long called for the flag to come down. Now we're waiting on Governor Nikki Haley reportedly to do the same. And she won't be alone in that call.


This news conference, which is expected to get under way any minute now -- I will step aside as soon as it starts. But she is expected to join these calls for the flag to come down.

And, of course, it comes amid the growing controversy and the growing fever or fervor over this flag flying outside of the state capitol in light of the Charleston church massacre.

[16:00:00] We're hearing people. Along with activists, we're also hearing from

local, state and even national leaders, saying it's time for that flag to go, because, for too many, it represents something so negative, of hate, segregation, slavery, and promotes racism.

We did see the suspect in this case, in the Charleston shooting, Dylann Roof, of course, posing with the Confederate Flag in one hand, sometimes holding a gun in the other hand in his own postings prior to the massacre.

Now, what we understand is that Governor Haley will be joined by other leaders, including Senator Lindsey Graham, as well as Senator Tim Scott, who, as you may know, is the only African-American Republican in the U.S. Senate, all expected to call on this flag to be removed.

But, ultimately, it's going to be up to the state legislature, whether it stays or goes. It requires a two-thirds majority to agree if that flag were to be removed. And that would also require the legislature to work an extended session this legislative session, Jake, so we will see how this all plays out in the upcoming minutes and days -- back to you.

TAPPER: CNN senior investigative correspondent Drew Griffin is in Charleston.

And, Drew, we just learned that President Obama and Vice President Biden are planning on flying to Charleston for Reverend Clementa Pinckney's funeral. He's one of the nine victims of the terrorist attack last week. President Obama, we're told, will deliver the eulogy there for Pinckney. Tell us more.


I think that, you know, looking on all this and that funeral behind me here, Jake, here in Charleston, that, really, whatever the shooter tried to do, start a race war or whatever he was trying to do, it's having the complete opposite effect.

We may see that flag removed now from the state capitol grounds. We are going to have a huge unity spirit here for those funerals. We saw that over the weekend here.

So, I think, looking at this whole, you know, episode, this very, very dark episode, it is true that hate is not going to win and, in fact, that whatever actions this -- this killer tried to spur, it's having the exact opposite effect on all of us, Jake.

TAPPER: All right, let me bring in CNN's Brianna Keilar, senior political correspondent here.

And, Brianna, just as some history for our viewers, this flag, the rebel flag, was put up on top of the capitol dome in 1961 by the Democratic governor, Ernest "Fritz" Hollings, as a 100-year anniversary of the Civil War. It stayed there until about, I think, 2000. And then putting it at the capitol, but not on top the capitol, at a Confederate soldier's memorial, was an attempt at a compromise. This was a thorny issue back in the year 2000 for presidential

candidates, and it has reemerged as a thorny issue for the candidates.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: It certainly has, because now they are forced to take a position on something where they could be losing some of their base.

But, as past has shown, Jake, they may not be picking up a whole lot of African-American support. So you're seeing some different reactions here from Republicans. We, for instance, have heard from Lindsey Graham. You noted that Governor Haley has changed her tune here in the last few days, the same with Senator Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican, saying before that really -- and this is what he said on CNN -- it works here to have a Confederate memorial and to have an African-American memorial in front of the statehouse.

However, I think we are seeing that things have just shifted here in the last few days. And a lot of that is coming from, I would say, a tweet from Mitt Romney. He tweeted very clearly, saying -- speaking out against the flag, saying that it has to go.

And I think that tweet might as well have been a shove to a lot of these Republicans candidates, because you see them now coming out and taking positions or being, I think, forced a little more to say that they either don't like the flag or that the flag should do.

What is pretty interesting, though, George Pataki, New York governor, former New York governor, he has straight up said it needs to go, but you have a lot more Republicans who are being more nuanced in their positions, including Jeb Bush, who has said, when I was Florida governor, I was against the flag, we took the flag out.

True. But at the same time, he doesn't go as far as to say, South Carolina, your flag needs to go. A lot of Republicans want to say it's up to the states to decide here. And certainly, I think, they are afraid of losing some of that white conservative base, and then not picking up African-American support that would help for what they have lost.

TAPPER: Yes. It's important to note that whatever individuals outside of South Carolina think of the Confederate Flag, the rebel flag, and certainly people have a lot of strong opinions, the people of South Carolina support the compromise of taking if off the dome in the year 2000 and putting it at the Confederate memorial, still on the state capitol ground.

We see now in the statehouse, in the capitol grounds there, you see a lot of different members of Congress. You see the mayor of Charleston. You see Congressman Mark Sanford. It seems to be a bipartisan gathering for this announcement about a very, very contentious issue.


It's interesting, though, that all this has happened so quickly, Brianna, so quickly. When I interviewed a presidential candidate a few weeks ago about a number of issues, I asked about the Confederate Flag. It was an issue he had not been briefed on it, he did not ask -- he did not have an opinion on, before this has just obviously emerged as a huge issue.

Not a small issue for people of either party, because, in the South, the Confederacy is something that a lot of people have pride in. When President Clinton was Governor Clinton, he took steps to honor the Confederacy, whether with the Arkansas flag, which has a star that is designated to honor the Confederacy or taking steps to honor Robert E. Lee or Jefferson Davis.

KEILAR: That's right.

And I think, to that point, you have this divide between people who identify. And we should also mention the Clinton campaign not commenting on that. Certainly, she -- what they want to do is point to 2007, when Hillary Clinton said the South Carolina Confederate Flag has to go.

But this is divisive because some people will say this speaks to our heritage. This is something that is of our South.

TAPPER: Here comes Haley, Nikki Haley, along with Jim Clyburn, Tim Scott, Lindsey Graham. Let's listen in.


So, normally, I would try and get you all ready. And I'm not just going try and do that with my thumbs up today. So, hopefully, you all are ready to go.

This has been a very difficult time for our state. We have stared evil in the eye and watched good, prayerful people killed in one of the most sacred of places. We were hurt and broken and we needed to heal. And we were able to start that process not by issues -- talking about issues that divide us, but by holding vigils, by hugging our neighbors, by honoring those we lost and by falling to our knees in prayer.

Our state is grieving, but we are also coming together. The outpouring of love and support from all corners of people across this state and country has been amazing. The families who lost loved ones have been unbelievable pillars of strength and grace. Their expression of faith and forgiveness took our breath away.

They truly have shown the world what South Carolina looks like at our best. And the Mother Emanuel Church reopened its doors yesterday. Michael and I were there. We took our two little ones, Rena and Nalin.

My children saw what true faith looks like. My children saw that true hate can never triumph over true love. My children saw the heart and soul of South Carolina starting to mend.

I want to talk a little bit about the heart of our state. I want to talk about the people of South Carolina I'm so proud to serve. The country and the world have watched our strength and resilience over the last few days. We are strong people, who love God, our families and have a deep faith.

We believe in neighbors helping neighbors. We are a state that has held tight to our traditions and continued to grow and change in ways that move us forward. We were recently named the friendliest in the country and the most patriotic too. American flags fly proudly from home to home in South Carolina.

In just the last few months, the nation watched our state go through another time of crisis, when we dealt with the betrayal of one of our own in the tragic shooting of the Walter Scott. South Carolina did not respond with rioting and violence, like other places have. We responded by talking to each other, by putting ourselves in other people's shoes and by finding common ground in the name of moving our state forward.

The result, both Republicans and Democrats, black and white, came together and passed the first body camera bill in the country. And I stand in front of you, a minority female governor twice elected by the people of South Carolina. Behind me stands my friend Senator Tim Scott, elected by those same people, as one of just two African- American members of the United States Senate.

Five years ago, it was said, in the last 50 years, South Carolina is the state that has changed the most for the better. That was true when I quoted it at my first inauguration in 2011. It is even more true today. We have changed through the times and we will continue to do so.

But that does not mean we forget our history. History is often filled with emotion. And that is more true in South Carolina than a lot of the other places. On matters of race, South Carolina has a tough history. We all know that. Many of us have seen it in our own lives, in the lives of our parents and our grandparents. We don't need reminders.


In spite of last week's tragedy, we have come a long way since those days and have much to be proud of. But there is more we can do. That brings me to the subject of the Confederate Flag that flies on the statehouse grounds.

For many people in our state, the flag stands for traditions that are noble, traditions of history, of heritage and of an ancestry. The hate-filled murderer who massacred our brothers and sisters in Charleston has a sick and twisted view of the flag.

In no way does he reflect the people in our state who respect and in many ways revere it. Those South Carolinians view the flag as a symbol of respect, integrity and duty. They also see it as a memorial, a way to honor ancestors who came to the service of their state during time of conflict.

That is not hate, nor is it racism. At the same time, for many others in South Carolina, the flag is a deeply offensive symbol of a brutally oppressive past. As a state, we can survive and indeed we can thrive, as we have done, while still being home to both of those viewpoints. We do not need to declare a winner and a loser here. We respect freedom of expression, and that for those who wish to show their respect for the flag on their private property, no one will stand in your way.

But the statehouse is different. And the events of this past week call upon us to look at this in a different way. Fifteen years ago, after much contentious debate, South Carolina came together in a bipartisan way to move the flag from atop the capitol dome. Today, we are here in a moment of unity in our state, without ill will, to say it is time to move the flag from the capitol grounds.


HALEY: A hundred and fifty years after the end of the Civil War, the time has come.

There will be some in our state who see this as a sad moment. I respect that. But know this. For good and for bad, whether it is on the statehouse grounds or in a museum, the flag will always be a part of the soil of South Carolina.

But this is a moment in which we can say that that flag, while an integral part of our past, does not represent the future of our great state.

The murderer now locked up in Charleston said he hoped his actions would start a race war. We have an opportunity to show that not only was he wrong, but that -- that just the opposite is happening.

My hope is that, by removing a symbol that divides us, we could move forward as a state in harmony, and we can honor the nine blessed souls who are now in heaven.


HALEY: The General Assembly wraps up their year this week.

And, as governor, I have the authority to call them back into session under extraordinary circumstances. I have indicated to the House and the Senate that, if they do not take measures to ensure this debate takes place this summer, I will use that authority for the purpose of the legislature removing the flag from the statehouse grounds.


HALEY: That will take place in the coming weeks, after the regular session and the veto session have been completed. There will be a time for discussion and debate.

But the time for action is coming soon. I want to make two things very clear. First, this is South Carolina's statehouse. It is South Carolina's historic moment. And this will be South Carolina's decision. To those outside of our state, the flag may be nothing more than a

symbol of the worst of America's past. That is not what it is to many South Carolinians. The statehouse belongs to all of us. Their voices will be heard. And their role in this debate will be respected.

We have made incredible progress in South Carolina on racial issues, yes, but on so many others. The 21st century belongs to us, because we have chosen to seize what is in front of us, to do what is right, and do it together. I have every faith that this will be no different. It is what we do in South Carolina. It is who we are.

[16:15:00] Second, I understand that what I have said here today will generate a lot of interest. What I ask is that the focus still remain on the nine victims of this horrible tragedy, their families, the Mother Emanuel family, the AME church family, the South Carolina family, we all deserve time to grieve and to remember, and to heal. We will take it, and I ask that you respect that.

We know that bringing down the Confederate flag will not bring back the nine kind souls that were taken from us nor rid of us of the hate or bigotry that drove a monster through the doors of Mother Emanuel that night. Some divisions are bigger than a flag. The evil we saw last Wednesday comes from a place much deeper, much darker.

But we are not going to allow this symbol to divide us any longer. The fact that people are choosing to use it as a sign of hate is something we cannot stand. The fact that it causes pain for so many is enough cause to move it from the capitol ground. It is, after all, a capitol that belongs to you will.

July 4th is around the corner. Soon we will once again celebrate the birth of our nation and our freedom. It would be fitting that our state capitol will soon fly the flag of our country and of our state and no others.

God bless, God bless of people of the great state of South Carolina. Thank you.


TAPPER: South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley, a Republican, embracing members of the congressional delegation there. She first reached out to Jim Clyburn, and the (INAUDIBLE) delegation, Mark Sanford, there's Mayor Riley from Charleston, a very potent moment. No matter what you think of the decision that the governor and other members of the Senate and House who stood with her, whatever you think of that decision, you have to take some comfort in the fact that the racist killer who perpetrated the assault will not be happy about the announcement.

Let's bring back CNN senior political correspondent Brianna Keilar.

I tell you, one thing that's remarkable about this decision, and we can get to the merits of it with our analysts who disagree on the merits of the flag. But, Brianna, very seldom to political leaders like a govern or a senator actually have a moment of crisis that is on the national stage where they have to act, and do they act so decisively. I can't imagine that Governor Haley has not shot to the top of a lot of presidential candidates' potential running lists.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: I would say that she would have already been very well up there.

TAPPER: Sure, of course.

KEILAR: She has already represented someone who I think speaks to what Republicans are trying to do, not very well at times, and need to do, which is be more embracing of women and minorities. She's very charismatic. She's shown herself to possess a lot of very good political qualities, but I think you have this moment where you see her standing in front of so many Democrats and Republicans, where she's brought people together, and I think that she is going to be judged very well because of this, definitely.

TAPPER: And she did so, Drew Griffin, or senior investigative correspondent who is in Charleston right now, she did so in a way so as to make it clear that she doesn't think that everybody who likes the rebel flag, the Confederate flag, is racist, but a lot of them and they are a majority in the state of South Carolina, see it as a symbol of heritage, but she said we have to look at it in a new light because of the events of last week.

DREW GRIFFIN, CNN SENIOR INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, you have to look at it in the light of everybody who lives under that flag in this state, and if you have half the people don't like it and half the people do like it, I mean, it seems to be a good compromise to take it down.

What I think everybody kind of misses in this, although it's certainly a well-known fact -- it's not the state flag. They have a state flag. They have an American flag. This is just this rebel battle flag that we want up, as you said, 100 years after the end of the civil war, which also went up right at the beginning of what was the civil rights movement. And many people in this state and elsewhere believe it went up sort of in 1961 as a sign to protest the civil rights movement.

So, it has always been a symbol to especially the black community of South Carolina, that that was an unwelcomed flag in their state.

TAPPER: Drew Griffin, thank you so much.

Ana Cabrera was in the room with the governor of South Carolina, Republican Nikki Haley as she stood with that bipartisan delegation.

Ana, tell us about it.

ANA CABRERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, there was a lot of applause when she announced she believe that flag must come down and be moved to a more appropriate place, perhaps in a museum as some have suggested, as she did introduce a lot of that bipartisan group that was here with here, several Republicans, which have been a traditional group of people that have been for the flag staying where it is, because they believe it represents heritage, Southern pride, rights for the states, to end.

[16:20:11] Yet, at the same time, she noted that there is no winner or loser if that flag is moved ultimately. If there's a group here who feels so strongly that this flag represents the negative aspects of the history of this state, that that is just nothing that should have a place on state grounds.

At the same time, she also called for being respectful for the state's healing process, and I know late last week, she made those exact comments, sort of dancing around this issue of taking a stance on this heated controversy growing over the Confederate flag, but she kept coming back to the nine people who lost their lives and emphasized at this time, that's what the state is focused on, and called on the state legislature to work in the coming weeks to resolve this Confederate flag issue.

So, we will continue to watch and see where it goes, Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Ana Cabrera in Columbia, Brianna Keilar here in the studio with me, Drew Griffin in Charleston -- thank you all.

Let's talk about this decision with South Carolina State Senator John Scott, and with David French, who's a staff writer for the conservative magazine at "National Review".

Thanks to both of you for joining me.

Senator Scott, let me start with you. I'm assuming you think Governor Haley made the right call, by calling for the flag to come down. It's going to take a two thirds majority in the South Carolina legislature to do so, based on the law that was pass when this compromise was first made 15 years ago. Do you think there's any chance she will not be able to marshal that support? Two thirds is a lot.

JOHN SCOTT (D), SOUTH CAROLINA STATE SENATOR: I think she'll get that support. I would say to you that members of the Senate are already talking about having an organized coalition of bipartisan group coming together to try to figure out those who probably would not want to do this, to get them on board.

I was very happy about what the governor, along with our Washington delegation coming together in support and that's time for us in the general assembly to react, and to get this flag down which has been so divisive among the state. But anytime the faith-based community gets involved, especially when there's death that occur in the church, and the symbol that flag is used to demonstrate hate, that tells us that we have allowed this flag to stay up too long.

I'm excited about going back to work, getting this flag down, reaching across the aisle, working with my colleagues, and making sure this flag come down, so that South Carolina can come back together as a family.

TAPPER: David, let me go to you. I should note, David, you're actually from Tennessee, not from South Carolina. And we should know we reached out to many South Carolina legislators who have in the past supported the flag staying where it is, and we were not able to get them to come. So, we thank you for standing by what you believe and coming on the show.

You do not view it as a symbol of hatred. Do you think that we just saw an overreaction?

DAVID FRENCH, STAFF WRITER, NATIONAL REVIEW: You know, I'm not going to call it an overreaction. I think there's a couple of things that Governor Haley said that were very important to remember here.

One, this is a decision for the people of South Carolina, not for a lawyer from Tennessee. It's a decision for the people of South Carolina.

And number two, they don't want to do anything and should not think of doing anything to detract from honoring those who lost their lives.

I'm not going to call this an overreaction. The issue here is, and this is what I have articulated, if the flag is put there, it's a matter of context and intent.

If the flag is put there with the intent and in the context of trying to demonstrate or celebrate white supremacy, that African-Americans should not enjoy equal rights as every other citizen in the United States -- take the flag down. If the flag is there to demonstrate the historical reality of what South Carolina has endured over the years, what South Carolina citizens did in the civil war, where almost 20,000 lost their lives, that's a part of history.

One thing that people don't talk about much is there are typically two Confederate flags flying in Charleston on federal land. Those are two Confederate flags that fly over Ft. Sumter. And yet the consensus there is that's not a demonstration of hate or defiance, but it's a reflection of history, that there were actually -- those flags actually flew over that fort and therefore it's an appropriate demonstration of what history was.

TAPPER: Senator Scott, I want to ask you, there was a November poll from Winthrop University in South Carolina, finding that a majority of South Carolinians want the flag to stay where it is, 73 percent of White South Carolinians wanted it to say where it is, 61 percent of black South Carolina residents want it taken down.

Why do you think, Senator, that most of the people in the state who support the flag staying where it is, why do you think they do so? Do you think it's because they're racist, or do you think it's because of heritage, but they're just blind to how others see it?

[16:25:06] SCOTT: I think it's a combination of both. I think you do have some of the race hate groups that want it to say so they feel like they have a superior state in South Carolina that the others, of course, who lost loved ones, and then there's the other side of those, people like after African-Americans such as myself, those families who have been oppressed, who have endured slavery in South Carolina, that means that you've got a state that's totally divided. We have a museum that we can put this flag in, and any time those groups want to go and to look at their flag, it's made available, like the gentleman said a minute ago, Ft. Sumter, they can always go and visit their battle flag there.

But for South Carolinians as a whole, we need to come together. This flag is divisive. This flag does not help our economy. This flag does not help us in growing and getting our children to work together.

A young 21-year-old South Carolinian killed nine people. That's a wake-up call for us. The church itself has said enough is enough. Those of us who are Christian, we're not white Christian or black Christian, we're Christians. And we want people in South Carolina to act like Christians and not to use any symbol flag or anything other thing to be divisive among our people.

TAPPER: David, the governor said that it was time to look at the flag in a new light given the events of last week. Do you think it is that photograph, the moment that people were made aware of the photograph of that racist killer with the Confederate flag, that what happened today was just a forgone conclusion?

FRENCH: I don't think there's any question that that was a pivotal moment and it's completely understandable. This reaction is completely understandable.

And that's why I think the people of South Carolina now you are wrestling with this decision. That was a moment that revolted every person of goodwill in this country.

I think the question that we have to ask ourselves -- because this is not the last time we're going to be faced with the question of difficult historical symbols. History is different. And the fact of the matter is, you know, when it comes to the civil war, these battlefields, these monuments -- they're all on government land. These are in open museums all over the South, even into the North that depict the Confederacy, that depict Confederate soldiers that often show Confederate flags and that's hurtful to people.

But the question is, do we get rid of that? Or do we acknowledge it? Do we learn from it? Do we teach each other where these -- where these people were coming from when they did what they did, and then hopefully go forward in unity.

TAPPER: All right. Well, thank you for the civil conversation, David French. South Carolina State Senator John Scott, thank you so much. Really appreciate it.

Some more breaking news, a sitting governor announcing a major health battle he's facing. It's a breaking news story and we're going to have it next.