Report: Nikki Haley to call for Confederate flag's removal as SC legislature mulls action; Update: Lindsey Graham too; Update: And Tim Scott

No official word yet on what she plans to say but it isn’t hard to guess.

Gov. Nikki Haley will hold a news conference in Columbia at 4 p.m. today at which, sources said, she will call for the Confederate flag to come down from the Statehouse grounds.

The move comes as lawmakers are exploring if the removal can be done legislatively in the coming days, tying their heightened attention to the recent shooting deaths of nine members of the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston…

Lawmakers have an unfinished budget, but are considering using the current extended session to address wording that would remove the flag from the Confederate monument as part of the 2015-16 state spending plan.

As recently as eight months ago, at a gubernatorial debate, Haley answered her Democratic opponent’s call to take down the flag by countering that none of the CEOs who’ve brought their businesses to the state seemed to have any issue with it. That may be about to be change, though — protests to burn the flag on Saturday are already picking up steam on Facebook — so evidently Haley’s position will change with it. Last year 61 percent of South Carolinians supported keeping the flag in place on the state house grounds, but Haley’s term-limited as governor and is probably thinking more of her national potential at this point. She’s on the 2016 VP short list already; today’s announcement will remove a potential obstacle. It’s also a huge favor not just to Republicans in the state legislature, who’ll be grateful to have her acting as lightning rod on this, but to the GOP’s presidential field, which wants to make the Confederate flag issue go away ASAP. There’s a lot more upside than downside for her in taking this position.

As for the legislature, they’re in session right now working on a budget. They could either add a provision to the final budget bill removing the flag from the capitol grounds or expand the scope of the session to address the flag separately. The Daily Beast reported a few hours ago that the legislature would indeed take up the flag issue tomorrow, but I can’t find that corroborated anywhere. It’s more a case, I think, of some state senators calling for that to happen rather than having reached any deals yet. On the other hand, there does seem to be some bipartisan support for this: Republican state Rep. Norman Brannon, a friend of murdered Emanuel AME Pastor Clementa Pinckney, plans to introduce a bill to have the flag removed. He told the NYT:

“The flag is kind of like algae in a lake,” he said in an interview. “It’s just barely under the surface, everybody knows it’s there, but unless something like this happens, nobody talks about it.”

Mr. Brannon spoke bluntly about the effect of the killings on him.

“What lit the fire under this was the tragic death of my friend and his eight parishioners,” Mr. Brannon said. “It took my buddy’s death to get me to do this. I should feel ashamed of myself.”

A Democratic state rep says there’s a “growing consensus” among legislators from both parties in both chambers to address the issue before the next legislative session, which presumably means having it formally removed, but whether that’s the truth or wishful thinking is unclear. Then again, how likely is it that Haley would step into the spotlight on this without assurances from Republican leaders in the legislature that they’ll back her up? She may be term-limited but she needs to govern for three more years. She’s not going to make this move before finding out whether doing so will make the rest of her agenda toxic. Speaking of which, Tim Scott was asked yesterday on “Face the Nation” what his position is and promised to make his voice heard if and when the debate begins — but not before then. Your move, Haley. She’ll be okay politically unless Erick Erickson is right that the anti-flag push is perceived by South Carolinians as coming mainly from outside, by northern liberals, rather than a choice made by the state itself. If there really is a “growing consensus” in the legislature about this, that problem should be solved.

I think she’ll say something like this: “No one believes that pride in the Confederate flag necessarily means racist intent, just as no one believes these horrible murders wouldn’t have happened had the flag been removed from the state house grounds years ago. But causation isn’t the issue. What’s at issue is that South Carolinians have come together in a spirit of unity after an act of evil intended to divide us. The flag is another point of division; in the spirit of continuing unity, we should retire it from public grounds and let its display be a matter of private choice.” Good enough?

Update: Sounds like the writing’s on the wall. Graham was equivocal about removing the flag last week, but now he’s reportedly onboard:

South Carolina Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham will call Monday for the removal of the confederate flag from state grounds, a source familiar with the decision told CNN.

Graham, a 2016 presidential candidate, will make his announcement during a press conference with South Carolina’s Republican governor, Nikki Haley, at 4 p.m. Monday.

Strength in numbers: If Haley and Graham are out there together to take the heat, there’s less heat for each to bear separately. I’d be shocked if Tim Scott doesn’t chime in on their side soon.

Update: And there’s Tim Scott, as expected:

U.S. Sen. Tim Scott today will join the chorus of public officials calling for the Confederate flag to come down today.

It is not known if he will attend Gov. Nikki Haley’s news conference in Columbia at 4 p.m. today at which, sources said, she will call for the Confederate flag to come down from the Statehouse grounds.

That’s a lot of political cover for Republican state legislators who are on the fence. And it’s good news for the GOP’s presidential field, who can now cite some influential members of the party in South Carolina as cover for their own inevitable decisions to support removing the flag.

Update: Ah, I missed this yesterday from Apple’s CEO, a shot across South Carolina’s bow from corporate America: