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Time to take down the Confederate flag in S.C.? Candidates weigh in

With the racially-motivated shooting at Charleston’s Emmanuel AME Church Wednesday, some prominent South Carolina politicians, including Gov. Nikki Haley, are saying it is time to take down the Confederate flag from the state house. Susan Page of USA Today and Tamara Keith of NPR join Judy Woodruff to discuss how the presidential candidates are reacting.

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    Now the Confederate Flag and the presidential race.

    The killings in Charleston returned the rebel banner to the forefront in South Carolina and to the 2016 agenda.


    Take it down! Take it down!


    Thousands gathered on the grounds of the South Carolina state capitol this weekend to protest the continued presence of the Confederate Battle Flag. The issue's also alive again for Republican presidential candidates, eight months out from the South Carolina primary.

    This was former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee Sunday, on NBC.

  • FORMER GOV. MIKE HUCKABEE Republican Presidential Candidate:

    Everyone's being baited with this question, as if somehow that has anything to do whatsoever with running for president. And my position is, it most certainly does not.


    Over on ABC, former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum agreed.

  • FORMER SEN. RICK SANTORUM Republican Presidential Candidate:

    I don't think the federal government or federal candidates should be making decisions on everything and opining on everything. This is a decision that needs to be made here in South Carolina. And, like everybody else, I have my opinion.


    But, today, South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham called for the flag's removal.

    And, on Saturday, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush said on Facebook: "My position on how to address the Confederate flag is clear. In Florida, we acted, moving the flag from the state grounds to a museum, where it belonged.

    In addition, the party's 2012 nominee, Mitt Romney, tweeted that: "It's a symbol of racial hatred. Remove it now to honor Charleston victims."

    On the Democratic side, Hillary Clinton took on the broader question of racism in America on Saturday in San Francisco.

  • HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON Democratic Presidential Candidate:

    I know that so many of us hoped that, by electing our first black president, we had turned the page on this chapter in our history. But, despite our best efforts and our highest hopes, America's long struggle with race is far from finished.


    Clinton, who came out in 2007 for removing the flag from the South Carolina Statehouse grounds, said millions of people of color still experience racism daily.

    To take a closer look at this intersection of politics, race and history, we go to our Politics Monday panel.

    This week, we're joined by Susan Page of USA Today and Tamara Keith of NPR.

    And we welcome you both back.

  • SUSAN PAGE, USA Today:

    Great to be here.


    So this reversal by Governor Nikki Haley, Republican governor of South Carolina, on issue of whether the flag should be displayed, Susan Page, what's the significance of this?


    I think it means that, for South Carolina politicians anyway, there's been a tipping point with this terrible tragedy in Charleston.

    So, you had the governor, you had both senators, you had many members of the House standing up there and saying it's time for the Confederate Flag to come down from where it stands near the state capitol now. And you heard Governor Haley be I think quite eloquent in both addressing the feelings of those who feel that the flag is an expression of their heritage, of their history, not an expression of racism, but making the argument that, given what it means to others and given the way the flag was brandished by the killer in Charleston, that it is time for it to go.


    Tamara, was this inevitable after what happened in Charleston?


    It certainly seems like there was a chorus growing of people saying there's still this flag flying that is on the state grounds?

    And what Governor Haley said was, no one is going to tell you that, if this flag is important to your heritage, that you have to stop flying it at your house. However, she said it has no place on state grounds.

    And given everyone she had standing around her, it seems like it just tipped. And then there were sort of the floodgates opened of other politicians, presidential candidates, the RNC chairman, all of these statements coming out saying Governor Haley made the right move.


    I would just say it tipped for politicians.

    We don't know yet if it tipped for the people of South Carolina. In the most recent poll we had, which was last November, by Winthrop, had 72 percent of white voters in South Carolina supporting the flag. And you need a two-thirds vote of the state legislature to consider taking down the flag, another two-thirds vote to take it down. So we aren't at the end of this debate yet.


    But now you have, as you said, the two Republicans senators of the state joining the Republican governor.

    Presidential candidate Mitt Romney made the statement, what, just right after the Charleston shooting, Susan, saying that he thought the flag should come down. And today after the governor's announcement, other Republican presidential candidates — do we expect they're all going to end up in the same position or what do we think?


    I think that they're all going to support what the governor said. I think that's an easy out for them because some of the Republican presidential candidates were very being cautious to say this is a matter for the state to consider.

    Remember, there's that big primary in South Carolina. It matters a lot in Republican politics. So I think there was a lot of caution until the governor stepped forward and now they all see a path through this issue.


    Because, Tamara, it was just — I think I read over the weekend Scott Walker, governor of Wisconsin, was saying, no, we need to wait at least until these victims in Charleston have been buried, before we even begin to talk about the flag.


    And there was a lot of discussion also of states' rights, or we're presidential candidates, we shouldn't weigh in on this, this is up to the state to decide.

    And I think by coming out and making the strong statement, the governor has sort of allowed others to agree with her, essentially.


    What about on the other side of the ledger, Susan?

    The Democrats were already — they had taken the position the flag should come down. But they're making comments. We heard Hillary Clinton's comment about race. Are they saying things among — Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton, Martin O'Malley, to distinguish themselves in any important ways about race?


    I think one interesting thing you're seeing with the Democrats now is that after about eight years of not wanting to talk very much about race, because President Obama, despite his groundbreaking election in 2008, has been very reluctant to address race unless it's been forced upon him. And that's changed.

    I think we have seen that change with some of the deaths of unarmed black men at the hands of the police. And we definitely saw it in the wake of this Charleston shooting, where he's increasingly talking about this issue, and so is Mrs. Obama. And that opens the door to the kind of discussion about race in this country that I don't think we have really seen for maybe forever, certainly not for a very long time.


    It's striking, isn't it, Tamara?



    And, tomorrow, actually, Hillary Clinton will be in Missouri, very near Ferguson, talking about these very issues again. She's going right to the heart of where this gash tore open last year.


    It's interesting that guns — the president made a comment, Tamara, right after Charleston happened about guns and he hoped Washington would take another look at that. But we haven't heard very much about that. Do we think there's going to be any movement on guns?



    And the president doesn't expect there really to be any movement on guns. He said, you know, if the Senate couldn't pass background check legislation, bipartisan background check legislation after 20 kids were killed in Newtown, what is going to change with this shooting?

    And, in fact, the pure political numbers have changed, so that the Senate and the House are both controlled by Republicans. I was talking to a law professor who studied the nation's gun laws today and he said there — and it makes so much sense — there are really two Americas when it comes to guns. The initial reaction of Democrats and the president was to say we need fewer guns, we need more gun control.

    The initial reaction of the other half of America was to say, well, we need more guns to protect people, there should have been guns in that church. And when there's that divide, it's really hard for people to look at this tragedy and figure out a path forward.


    That seems to be the reaction, Susan, after every one of these mass shootings. It seems to that happened after Newtown.


    Although the fact is that when you poll Americans nationwide, you see a majority support for some gun measures like enhanced background checks.

    And what's really happened is the nature of our politics prevents that from happening despite public support for them.


    Do you see any — do you think anything's going to change as a result of this?


    I don't see any way it changes on guns. There's a stranglehold by the NRA and some other gun lobbies that makes it seemingly impossible to move forward, even in the face of very broad public support.

    We know that a majority of gun owners support enhanced background checks, and yet still this can't seem to get passed.


    Less than a minute, but I just want to ask you both quickly. There's a new poll out, NBC/Wall Street Journal, showing some good news for a couple of the Republican candidates, Tamara. What do you make of that?


    Well, I think, in part, this is a poll that asks, could you see yourself voting for this person? And so the good news for Jeb Bush is that Republican voters could see themselves voting for him. It's part popularity, part name recognition, part palatability.


    It's so early, Susan. Does something like this make a difference? Does it matter?


    I thought it was very interesting.

    And I'll tell you, who I think did best in this is Scott Walker, because he wasn't first in terms of could you see yourself voting for him, but he was the lowest in, I could not see myself possibly voting for him. So he's got the most room to grow. A lot of Republicans don't know about him yet.

    I thought that was the most interesting finding in that survey.


    Well, there will be more polls, I have a feeling, between now and the election.

    Susan Page, Tamara Keith, we thank you both.


    Thank you.


    You're welcome.

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