COLUMBIA, S.C. -- With the South Carolina House set to begin its second debate on a bill to remove the Confederate flag from the grounds of the state Capitol building Wednesday, msnbc has learned that a Republican member plans to gum up the works.
State Rep. Michael A. Pitts, who represents a conservative district including the city of Laurens, plans to introduce at least 25 amendments to the Senate-passed bill. Advance copies of the proposed amendments show that five of the amendments, which are dated between June 29 and July 7, have co-sponsors. They include one that would place the state flag atop the flagpole adjacent to the Confederate monument where the battle flag now stands, one mirroring a failed Senate attempt to place the fate of the battle flag before a public referendum, and amendments that would replace the current flag with another Confederate emblem: the “Bonnie Blue” flag, which began as the flag of the Republic of West Florida in 1810 and was flown by Confederate forces in the battle of Fort Sumter in 1861.
Pitts could not be reached for comment Tuesday, as phone calls to his office and home went unanswered.
Of the 20 amendments offered solely by Rep. Pitts, several appear aimed at tweaking various constituencies by targeting the statuary on the Capitol grounds for replacement with “suitable landscaping” or foliage. One would remove the monument to Strom Thurmond. Another targets the statue of notorious lynching advocate “Pitchfork” Ben Tillman, which stands not far from the Confederate monument. Others target law enforcement, veterans, African-American history, Revolutionary War and Spanish American War memorials.
Several amendments propose alternative Civil War era flags to replace the current one.
Others appear to be purely frivolous, including one that would remove all of the monuments in the State House Park entirely, and another that calls for the American flag atop the Capitol dome to be flown upside down.
South Carolina House Minority Leader Todd Rutherford told msnbc that House Democrats were prepared for Pitts’ strategy, which he says is the reason the caucus held a press conference Tuesday morning to warn that they would brook no obstruction.
“This is no surprise,” Rutherford said. “He had been talking about this for awhile.”
“I call it filibuster by amendment,” Rutherford aid, noting that no actual filibuster rule exists in the South Carolina House.
Rutherford said House rules require 20 minutes of debate per amendment, including ten minutes upon introduction of the amendment, and ten minutes of response.
“Just taking up 25 amendments could keep us there all day,” said Rev. Nelson Rivers of the National Action Network, who said he heard from members about the planned obstruction as the House ended its session Tuesday. Rivers noted the overwhelming vote to bring the Senate bill to the House floor on Tuesday, a process known as the “first reading.”
“They have 93 votes saying it’s time to move forward,” Rivers said of the House. “The test will be when they start debating those amendments and we see how the votes go.”
"[Pitts] can filibuster all he wants, but it is the will of the people."'
Rutherford said two-thirds of House members could ultimately halt Pitts’ strategy by invoking a cloture motion. At that point, no more amendments could be offered, but Pitts would have an additional three minutes to discuss each of his amendments. The Democrats had not yet decided as of Tuesday evening how their strategy to counter Pitts would play out.
But State Senator Marlon Kimpson, whose body passed a “clean” bill to remove the flag on a third reading on Tuesday, by a vote of 36 to 3, said he remains optimistic that the stalling tactic won’t work.
“He has every right to introduce his amendments,” said Kimpson, who noted that the same thing happened in the Senate but that all of the introduced and threatened amendments were either withdrawn or “soundly defeated.” Kimpson made it clear that the Senate would not consider an amended bill, having already voted through a rule automatically rejecting such a measure and sending it to a pre-selected conference committee.
“I’m optimistic that under the House rules that at some point the members will invoke cloture,” or that “the House will defeat those amendments and vote them down as soon as possible.”
“I don’t know Representative Pitts personally,” Kimpson said. “He has a right to offer his amendments, and I just can’t comment on why he’s doing this because that would require me to get inside his state of mind.”
“I can say that the flag is coming down,” Kimpson said. “And [Pitts] can filibuster all he wants, but it is the will of the people. It’s the will of a supermajority of the Senate. And just as many stood in the way of progress during the civil rights struggle its not surprising to me that this representative is standing in the way of progress, but in the final analysis, in the end, the Senate bill will prevail, and we will move forward expeditiously to remove the Confederate Flag, forever, from in front of the State House.”