- Defense Secretary Mark Esper issued a memo Friday that effectively bans the display of the Confederate flag on U.S. military installations.
- Notably, the memo does not include the words “ban” or “Confederate flag,” but rather, it omits it from a list of flags that are allowed to be displayed.
- Officials close to the matter said that the precaution was taken to avoid angering President Trump, who has defended the flag and other Confederate symbols.
- However, numerous top military officials disagree with Trump and have pressured Esper to ban the flag, as well as to take action to remove other Confederate symbols on military bases.
The Pentagon effectively banned displays of the Confederate flag at all U.S. military installations Friday in a carefully-worded memo that does not use the word “ban” or mention the flag by name.
The memo, issued by Defense Secretary Mark Esper, outlines the flags that are allowed to be displayed, including the American flag, the flags of states and territories, military flags, and flags of U.S. allies.
The Confederate flag, however, is not on that list, and by omission, it will no longer be allowed in any military installations.
“The flags we fly must accord with the military imperatives of good order and discipline, treating all our people with dignity and respect, and rejecting divisive symbols,” Esper said in the memo, noting that the guidance applies to all public displays of flags by service members and Department of Defense civilians “in all DoD work places, common access areas, and public areas.”
The display of any unauthorized flags will still be permitted in museums, historical exhibits, works of art, and other educational programs.
One defense official told The Washington Post that Esper chose to not list any flags that are explicitly prohibited in order “to ensure the departmentwide policy would be apolitical and withstand potential free speech political challenges but that the services are still free to act on other flags.”
However, other officials familiar with the matter also told reporters that the mention of the Confederate flag was left out in order to not anger or contradict President Donald Trump, who has defended people’s rights to display it.
Trump and Military Officials Divided on Flag
The extreme caution taken by Esper further reflects the growing divide between how the president and top military leaders view the need to respond to the movement for racial justice that has swept the country since the death of George Floyd.
In recent weeks, military officials have been grappling with how to address the long legacy of racism and racist symbols within the institution. Specifically, Esper has faced mounting pressure from military service leaders to ban the Confederate flag, according to POLITICO.
In early June, the Marine Corps officially banned displays of the flag on its military bases. A week later, the Navy announced that it would also prepare its own ban.
Other top military officials have also been vocal about their desire to change divisive and racist symbols, including Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy, who was reportedly among those leading the charge to push Esper to ban the Confederate flag.
“Anything that is a divisive symbol, we do want to take those out of our installations and keep that sort of thing out of our formation,” McCarthy told reporters during a call Thursday.
However, the calls to remove Confederate symbols do not just stop at the flag. During a House hearing last week, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley told members of Congress that the Pentagon must “take a hard look at the symbology, the symbols, things like the Confederate flags and statues and bases.”
“There is no place in our armed forces for manifestations or symbols of racism, bias or discrimination,” he said.
Esper, for his part, has also acknowledged his willingness to remove the names of Confederate officers from ten military bases, but President Trump has fervently defended Confederate symbols and repeatedly argued that they should remain in place.
Trump has openly criticized NASCAR’s decision last month to ban displays of the flag at all future events, claiming the flag is a matter of “freedom of speech.” In early June, he voiced his strong opposition to renaming the ten military bases honoring Confederate military leaders.
“These Monumental and very Powerful Bases have become part of a Great American Heritage, and a history of Winning, Victory, and Freedom,” he wrote in a series of tweets. “The United States of America trained and deployed our HEROES on these Hallowed Grounds, and won two World Wars.”
“Therefore, my Administration will not even consider the renaming of these Magnificent and Fabled Military Installations,” he continued. “Our history as the Greatest Nation in the World will not be tampered with. Respect our Military!”
However, it is not just top military leaders that disagree with Trump on these matters.
Next week, the Senate is expected to move forward with an amendment to the annual defense bill that would require the Pentagon to change the names of the bases and remove other Confederate symbols from military installations within three years. The House is also expected to go ahead with a similar measure.
In late June, Trump threatened to veto the defense bill if the Senate passed the amendment, which was proposed by Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA). However, top Republican leaders have voiced support for the move.
In an interview earlier this week, Senator Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said that he would not block the effort to rename the bases. Last month, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), also told reporters that he was “not opposed” to renaming the bases.
See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (The Washington Post) (POLITICO)
Campaign Season Gets Rolling This Month With Primaries in 13 States
Several of the contests taking place this month will serve as important tests for Trump-backed candidates and how much power the former president still has over the GOP.
May Primaries Start With Key Race in Ohio
The 2022 midterm season is officially heating up this month with 13 states heading to the polls.
Voters in Indiana and Ohio will kick off the busy month on Tuesday with several highly anticipated races, including one closely watched contest for the seat being vacated by long-time Senator Rob Portman (R-Oh.)
The fight for Portman’s seat has been a heated one: candidates have spent tens of millions of dollars, held numerous debates and forums, and at one point, two of them even got into a physical confrontation.
The main reason there are so many eyes on this race is because it will prove to be a key test for former President Donald Trump and the influence he has over the party. While Portman has generally been moderate and, at times, more readily critical of Trump than many others in his party, the Republican primary campaign has basically been a fight to see who is the most in line with Trump.
According to FiveThirtyEight, all but one of the seven Republican senate candidates embraced the former president’s election fraud lies as they fought for his coveted endorsement in a state he won by eight points in both 2016 and 2020.
Trump, for his part, ultimately ended up endorsing Hillbilly Elegy author J.D. Vance in a move that surprised many, because Vance had previously been vocally opposed to the former leader and his competitors had spent months running ads noting that fact.
However, the fight for Trump’s backing appears to have been worth it. Last week, a Fox News poll found that support for Vance has surged by double-digits since Trump’s endorsement, making him the front-runner.
Still, as FiveThirtyEight reports, “other factions of the party haven’t given up the fight either — which means the primary will be a direct test of how much clout Trump has when other Republican elites dare to defy him.”
Meanwhile, there are also concerns regarding the ongoing legal battle over Ohio’s congressional map and the confusion that has caused for the state’s election calendar. For weeks, it was widely believed the state’s primaries would be pushed back after the Ohio Supreme Court ordered GOP lawmakers to redraw their map.
The map had been gerrymandered to give Republicans 12 out of the 15 congressional seats in the state even though they had only won around 55% of the popular vote. Ohio voters also previously passed a constitutional amendment in 2018 that effectively banned partisan gerrymandering.
The election, however, is still going forward anyway, even as early voting was down a whopping 40% from the last election, and the legislative races will not be on the ballot Tuesday, meaning there will have to be a second primary, which will likely drive down turnout even more.
Other Major Races This Month
There are also other notable contests scheduled for later this month. On May 17, there will be two additional races for seats vacated by Republican senators in North Carolina and Pennsylvania that will serve as important indicators of the former president’s sway over the party.
Meanwhile, in Georgia, the main Trump test focuses on two statewide races for the positions currently held by Gov. Brian Kemp (R) and Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger (R). The two infamously angered Trump after they refused to help him overturn the election, and as a result, many are watching to see if the former president’s full-fledged pressure campaign against them will work.
In Georgia and other battlegrounds voting this month, Democrats are also hoping they can make inroads — particularly in Pennsylvania. But recent polls have not painted a good picture for the party. Last week, an NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll found that 47% of voters said they were more likely to vote for the Republican in their district, while just 44% said they would back Democrats.
The poll marked the first time in eight years that a Marist survey found the GOP with an advantage for congressional ballot tests.
See what others are saying: (NPR) (FiveThirtyEight) (PennLive)
New York’s Highest Court Strikes Down Democrat-Gerrymandered Map
The move represents a major blow to Democrats, who stood to gain as many as three seats in Congress if their map had been accepted.
Appeals Court Ruling
The New York State Court of Appeals struck down a congressional map drawn by the state’s Democrats Wednesday, dealing the party a major blow.
In the decision, the state’s highest court agreed with Republicans who had argued that the map was unconstitutionally gerrymandered to benefit Democrats. The justices called the map “substantively unconstitutional as drawn with impermissible partisan purpose.”
The court also condemned the Democrats for ignoring a constitutional amendment approved by voters in 2014 that aimed to limit political influence in redistricting, which included the creation of an independent entity to draw maps that the legislature would then vote on. However, the commission created to prevent partisan gerrymandering was unable to decide on a map because of its own partisan stalemate. As a result, Democrats in the legislature took it upon themselves to draw a final map.
But the version that the legislature passed and New York Gov. Kathy Hochul (D) signed into law re-drew lines so that Democrats could have gained as many as three new seats in the U.S. House of Representatives.
Such gains would be highly significant in the upcoming 2022 midterm elections, where Republicans are expected to make substantial gains and may very well take back the House. Unsurprisingly, Republicans sued, and a lower court struck down the map.
In their order, the Appeals Court justices took away the legislature’s ability to make the map and instead delegated that power to a court-appointed “neutral expert.”
While the judges did say there was enough time to finish the map before the primary elections in June, they also added that the Congressional contests would likely need to be moved to August. Races for governor and other statewide officials, however, would stay the same.
The Appeals Court ruling is unique in that it targets Democrats, but it also comes as part of the broader trend of state courts cracking down on gerrymandering — though most other instances have stemmed from GOP-drawn maps.
In just the first four months of 2022, state courts in Ohio, North Carolina, Kansas, and Maryland have all struck down redistricting plans crafted by lawmakers.
Unlike the New York ruling, some of those other courts have implied that they will still allow those maps to be used in the 2022 elections. Such a decision would very likely disadvantage Democrats even more.
See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (NPR) (The Washington Post)
McCarthy Warned Far-Right Lawmakers Could Incite Violence After Jan. 6 in New Audio of Leaked Call
The conversations represent a marked difference from the public efforts of McCarthy and other Republican leaders to downplay their members‘ actions.
Four days after the Jan. 6 insurrection, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Ca.) expressed concern about far-right Republicans inciting violence and openly voiced support for censoring them on Twitter, according to audio published by The New York Times on Tuesday.
The recordings, which come from a call among party leaders and aides on Jan. 10, are by far the clearest evidence top Republicans acknowledged that their members played a role in stoking violence before the insurrection and threatened to do so after.
They also emphasize the vast difference between what top Republicans, especially McCarthy, said behind closed doors, and how they downplayed and ignored the actions of their members in public.
One of the most notable elements of these recordings is that McCarthy and the others explicitly identified several individuals by name. They focused mainly on Reps. Matt Gaetz (R-Fl.) and Mo Brooks (R-Al.) as the primary offenders.
In the audio, McCarthy can be heard flagging Gaetz right off the bat.
“Tension is too high. The country is too crazy,” he added. “I do not want to look back and think we caused something or we missed something and someone got hurt. I don’t want to play politics with any of that.”
Specifically, McCarthy and the others talked about how Gaetz had gone on TV to attack multiple Republicans for being unsupportive of former President Donald Trump after Jan. 6. They particularly expressed concern over his targeting of Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wy.), who was a member of the leadership team and had already been facing threats.
Others on the call also noted that Brooks had spoken at the rally before the insurrection, where he made incendiary remarks that many have viewed as direct calls to violence. McCarthy said the public comments from his members “have to stop,” adding he would call Gaetz and have others do the same to tell him that this “is serious shit” and “to cut this out.”
Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.), the second-ranking House Republican, asserted at one point that Gaetz’s actions were “potentially illegal.”
“Well, he’s putting people in jeopardy, and he doesn’t need to be doing this,” McCarthy responded. “We saw what people would do in the Capitol, you know, and these people came prepared with rope, with everything else.”
Republicans on the call also mentioned incendiary remarks from other members, including Reps. Louie Gohmert (R-Tx.), Barry Moore (R-Al.), and Lauren Boebert (R-Co.). Cheney pointed to Boebert as a security risk, noting she had tweeted out incredibly sensitive information about the movements of top leaders like House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Ca.) during the attack on the Capitol.
“Our members have got to start paying attention to what they say, too, and you can’t put up with that shit,” McCarthy added later. “Can’t they take their Twitter accounts away, too?”
McCarthy in Hot Water
The newly published recordings also come just days after The Times reported that McCarthy had told members on a call after the insurrection that he would urge Trump to resign.
McCarthy initially called the reporting “totally false and wrong,” but shortly after his denial, The Times received permission from their source to publish audio where he can be heard saying precisely that.
McCarthy, for his part, has tried to spin the situation, claiming that his remarks were still true because he never actually followed through on the plan to call Trump.
Still, the situation prompted widespread backlash from the far-right faction of the Republican party.
Multiple people expressed hesitancy about their support for McCarthy as Speaker of the House if Republicans take control of the chamber in the midterm elections. Some said they could not trust him.
Speaking on his show Tuesday, Foxs News host Tucker Carlson called McCarthy “a puppet of the Democratic Party.”
Gaetz also responded with ire, tweeting out a statement in which he referred to the call as “sniveling” and said of McCarthy and Scalise: “This is the behavior of weak men, not leaders.”
Other members mentioned in the call, however, appeared to brush it off. In a statement to Axios, Moore claimed that the story was engineered by “RINOS” (Republicans in Name Only), and that “Republicans will be more united than ever after taking back the House this November.”
It currently remains unclear whether these revelations with pose any long-term threat to McCarthy, but if Trump is any indication of the far-right party line, the House leader may be in the clear.
After The Times published the audio of McCarthy saying Trump should resign, the former president told The Wall Street Journal that the relationship between the two men was untroubled.
“I think it’s all a big compliment, frankly,” he added. “They realized they were wrong and supported me.”