Military leaders pressure Esper to ban Confederate flag

The leaders of the armed forces are pressuring their boss, Defense Secretary Mark Esper, to ban the public display of the Confederate flag at Department of Defense installations and facilities, amid opposition from the White House, according to three defense officials.

Esper is set in the coming days to unveil a policy dealing with the public display of racially or socially divisive symbols on military installations, the people told POLITICO, as first reported by CNN.

Yet it is still unclear whether the policy will specifically include a ban on the Confederate flag and a DoD spokesperson declined to comment.

But Esper, the secretaries of the military departments and chiefs of the military branches discussed the issue at a meeting on Wednesday, said one defense official. A draft policy was circulated with the military departments, which provided feedback. It is now with the General Counsel and Personnel and Readiness offices, the person said.

Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy, in particular, is pushing Esper "hard" to issue a ban on the Confederate flag, two defense officials reported. McCarthy has recently taken steps aimed at eliminating unconscious bias in the ranks, including doing away with the use of official photos as a requirement in the promotion board process for officers.

"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 said during a call with reporters on Thursday. When questioned, he declined to say specifically whether the policy would include a Confederate flag ban, but noted that "We would have any divisive symbols on a no-fly list, if you will."

However, Esper is facing pressure from the White House not to issue a blanket ban on the public display of the Confederate flag. Trump last month tweeted his opposition to an effort to rename Army installations named after Confederate generals just two days after McCarthy and Esper opened the door to doing so. He has also criticized a decision by NASCAR to ban the Confederate flag as infringing on freedom of speech.

Several branches and commands have moved forward on their own to ban the flag in the past few months, including the Marine Corps, the Navy, and U.S. Forces Korea. But Esper told the department to pause these efforts until he can issue a department-wide policy.

"I suspect he doesn't want to get on the president's bad side," said one defense official.

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