06/24/2015 03:01 pm ET Updated Jun 24, 2015

South Carolina Congressman: Death Of 'Former Deskmate' Made Him Change His Mind On Confederate Flag

Rep. Mick Mulvaney (R-S.C.) revealed that the death of a former colleague in the Charleston church shooting helped him change his mind on removing the Confederate flag from his state's Capitol grounds.

"I blame myself for not listening closely enough to people who see the flag differently than I do. It is a poor reflection on me that it took the violent death of my former desk mate in the SC Senate, and eight others of the best the Charleston community had to offer, to open my eyes to that," he said in a statement released Tuesday.

Mulvaney was referring to state Sen. Clementa Pinckney (D), who was among the nine people killed in the shooting at the historically black Emanuel AME Church last week. Before he was elected to Congress, Mulvaney served alongside Pinckney in the South Carolina state Senate.

But in the same statement, Mulvaney claimed the debate over the flag was a distraction from the grief of the Charleston community and the compassion the victims' families showed in the aftermath of the shooting. He also accused those who have brought up the Confederate flag issue of politicizing the tragedy.

"It strikes me as particularly disappointing, for example, that we have spent more time talking about the flag for the last few days than we have talking about the extraordinary display of faith, love, and forgiveness shown by the families of the victims of the shooting in Charleston," he said.

Mulvaney added that his support of removing the flag was partially motivated by a desire to change the conversation. "If the flag has become an excuse for people to ignore things like that, then perhaps time has come for a change," he said. "Maybe with the flag removed, people will listen."

He ended by providing an odd argument for why the flag should be a non-issue.

"Finally, I will say this: there is no Confederate flag flying at the state capitol in Missouri, yet Ferguson had race riots; there is no Confederate flag flying at the state capitol in Maryland, yet Baltimore had race riots," he said. "There is a Confederate flag flying on the grounds of the state capitol in South Carolina, yet Charleston set an example for the world to marvel at in its response to this atrocity. And of that, I am extraordinarily proud. Perhaps those who are now trying to focus attention on the flag are spending their time on the wrong things."



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