Republicans criticize Confederate flags at Obama visit

Confederate Flag, Oklahoma, Obama
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Two Oklahoma Republican congressmen ripped protesters in their state who greeted President Obama in Oklahoma City by waving Confederate flags, calling their actions “disrespectful,” “embarrassing” and “inappropriate.”

“I was shocked and disappointed by those who showed up to wave Confederate flags soon after President Obama arrived in Oklahoma,” Rep. Tom Cole, a senior House Republican, said in a statement to The Hill. “Their actions were not only disappointing but incredibly disrespectful, insensitive and embarrassing to the entire state.

“The unacceptable behavior displayed by these individuals certainly does not reflect the values and views of the vast majority of Oklahomans,” Cole added. “No president should ever be confronted by such behavior, especially when the purpose of the visit was meant to celebrate and recognize some of our state’s greatest achievements.”

{mosads}Rep. Frank Lucas, another Oklahoma Republican who is close to leadership, said in an interview: “Free speech is an amazing thing. Unfortunately this was an inappropriate use of it.”

Obama traveled to Oklahoma to visit a federal prison, part of his push to overhaul the criminal justice system. He also rolled out a new pilot program aimed at bringing high-speed Internet to low-income households.

But when he arrived at his hotel in Oklahoma City Wednesday night, about 10 protesters in the crowd greeted him by waving the Confederate flag. Before Obama’s visit, protesters gathered along an interstate highway near Durant, Okla., and flew the battle flag.

Republicans have been trying to move past the flag flap ever since nine African-American worshippers were killed last month at a historically black church in South Carolina. The suspect, Dylann Roof, had allegedly posted pictures of himself online with white supremacy symbols, including Confederate flag memorabilia.

Outrage at the shooting prompted Republican South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley and other state leaders to remove a Confederate flag from the state Capitol grounds last week.

But the issue flared up again in Congress as Democrats and Republicans sparred over whether the Confederate battle flag could be displayed at gravestones in federal cemeteries on special Civil War memorial days.

Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin, a Republican who greeted Obama on the airport tarmac, attempted to distance the Sooner State from the flag-waving protesters. Her spokesman suggested many of them drove over the state line from Texas. 

The Confederate flag flew for more than 20 years on the Oklahoma Capitol grounds, part of a display of 14 flags, according to The Oklahoman

In 1988, work crews took down the flags during a renovation of the Statehouse. When the flags returned, the Confederate flag was conspicuously absent. 

In his lengthy statement, Cole said Wednesday’s flag display was especially “insensitive” after Obama’s “personal graciousness” when deadly tornadoes struck the congressman’s hometown of Moore, Okla., two years ago.

“The office of President of the United States is deserving of the respect of all Americans, regardless of how deeply we may disagree on issues or policies,” Cole said. “Political differences are never a justification to insult the president, and I believe that such action shows disrespect for the office itself.”

—Updated at 9:22 p.m. 

Tags Barack Obama Confederate flag Oklahoma

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