House moves to ban Confederate flag in federal cemeteries
COLUMBIA - The South Carolina House is taking a lunch break, in part so Republicans can meet behind closed doors again to talk about whether to take down the Confederate flag from the Statehouse grounds.
In three hours of debate, the House took up just four amendments, rejecting them all. One would have planted the state flower - yellow jasmine - in the place where the flag and flagpole now stand. Another would have put a case in front of the monument to Confederate soldiers with a display of historical flags.
Republicans quietly left to take their break, although a few were overheard talking about a meeting with Gov. Nikki Haley, who is urging them to adopt the Senate bill that would remove the flag within 24 hours of the governor signing it into law.
Democrats said they had nothing to discuss because they are united behind the Senate proposal.
House Minority Leader Todd Rutherford said the length of the debate and its slow progress isn't worrisome.
"A bill of this magnitude should take some time," Rutherford said.
Debate is scheduled to start again at 2:30 p.m.
The U.S. House has voted to ban the display of Confederate flags at historic federal cemeteries in the deep South.
The low-profile move came late Tuesday after a brief debate on a measure funding the National Park Service, which maintains 14 national cemeteries, most of which contain graves of Civil War soldiers.
The proposal by California Democrat Jared Huffman would block the Park Service from allowing private groups from decorating the graves of southern soldiers with Confederate flags in states that commemorate Confederate Memorial Day. The cemeteries affected are the Andersonville and Vicksburg cemeteries in Georgia and Mississippi.
Pressure has mounted to ban display of the flag on state and federal property in the wake of last month's tragic murders at a historic black church in Charleston, South Carolina.
Dozens of law enforcement officers are posted inside and outside the South Carolina Statehouse as House lawmakers debated the Confederate flag.
Uniformed officers from the State Law Enforcement Division stood inside the lobby space below the chamber where legislators discussed if the flag should be removed. Officers from the Columbia Police Department were also seen walking around the grounds.
Some protesters who support removing the flag waved signs at cars driving past the front side of the Statehouse, where the flag flies next to a monument to Confederate soldiers.
Unlike earlier in the week, no protesters who support the flag were visible.
A South Carolina lawmaker who doesn't support bringing down the Confederate flag from the South Carolina Capitol grounds and moving it to a museum without some kind a replacement, has dominated the debate in the House.
Rep. Mike Pitts has been speaking Wednesday for more than an hour in 20-minute segments. The Republican has touched on a number of things not exactly related to the debate on the rebel banner. He has discussed using his hearing aids to ignore his wife, his duck hunting and people who run and workout on the Statehouse grounds.
"I do a lot of curls - with a fork," Pitts said, making an exaggerated eating motion.
Later in the debate, Pitts talked about soldiers, and how female fighters might be better than male fighters. He suggested the meanest Army regiment in the world would have four female companies, sending each one out for a week at the front lines every month.
"If you timed that right, you certainly would have a fighting force I wouldn't want to face," Pitts said.
He then abruptly changed the topic. "I better stop on that one before I get too far," Pitts said.
State police say they are investigating a number of threats against South Carolina lawmakers debating whether the Confederate flag should stay on the Statehouse grounds.
Chief Mark Keel said Wednesday in a statement provided to The Associated Press that the State Law Enforcement Division is working with various other law enforcement agencies to investigate death threats against a number of legislators.
Keel said threats to kill or injure public officials or their relatives are not protected by free speech rights.
Keel did not specify if the lawmakers who had been threatened were opponents or supporters of bringing the flag down.
Earlier Wednesday, officials with the House Democratic caucus posted on Twitter a racially offensive and threatening letter allegedly sent to one of their members.