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Overnight Defense: DOD reportedly eyeing Confederate flag ban | House military spending bill blocks wall funding

Overnight Defense: DOD reportedly eyeing Confederate flag ban | House military spending bill blocks wall funding
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Happy Monday and welcome to Overnight Defense. I'm Ellen Mitchell, and here's your nightly guide to the latest developments at the Pentagon, on Capitol Hill and beyond. CLICK HERE to subscribe to the newsletter.

THE TOPLINE: The Pentagon is working on a policy that would ban the display of Confederate flags at military bases, according to multiple reports on Monday.

The draft policy, if put into effect, would ban the flag’s display in Department of Defense (DOD) workplaces or public areas by service members and civilian personnel, the Associated Press reported.

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And CNN reported that military legal personnel are reviewing how such a department-wide ban can be carried out, and that a decision will come soon.

Pentagon officials declined to comment to The Hill on such a draft.

Earlier: The possible directive comes after President TrumpDonald John TrumpUSAID administrator tests positive for COVID-19 Kamala Harris, Stacey Abrams among nominees for Time magazine's 2020 Person of the Year DOJ appeals ruling preventing it from replacing Trump in E. Jean Carroll defamation lawsuit MORE earlier in the day criticized NASCAR on Twitter over its decision to ban the flag at its venues, saying the move had led to lower ratings.

White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany repeatedly dodged questions about Trump’s tweet, saying at a Monday press conference that the president was not "making a judgment one way or the other" on whether NASCAR was wrong to ban the Confederate flag from its events. 

Trump has also repeatedly defended the preservation of Confederate statues and pushed back at renaming military bases named for Confederate officers. He has threatened to veto a massive defense policy bill over the inclusion of a bipartisan amendment that would change the names of such installations, though defense leaders have publicly supported such a change.

Policy details: Army Secretary Ryan McCarthyRyan McCarthyArmy secretary responds to news reports on sexual assault allegations in military: 'we must do better' OVERNIGHT DEFENSE: Esper reportedly working with lawmakers to strip Confederate names from bases | Enemy attacks in Afghanistan jump by 50 percent, watchdog says | Fort Hood soldier arrested, charged in Chelsea Cheatham killing Fort Hood soldier arrested, charged in Chelsea Cheatham killing MORE told reporters late last month that top Pentagon leaders were working on a DOD-wide policy for confederate symbols.

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“Obviously the Commander-in-Chief put out specific guidance related to bases ... looking at what is the uniform policy for confederate symbols, we’re working with the office of the secretary of defense on a policy related to that,” McCarthy said.

The draft DOD policy in question would put in place a ban to preserve “the morale of our personnel, good order and discipline within the military ranks and unit cohesion,” the AP reported.

A “significant” number of service members and their families are minorities and “it is beyond doubt” that many “take grave offense at such a display,” according to the draft.

Officials told the AP that the draft was sent out to service leaders last week for their input and response.

A shift in the services: If implemented, the policy would follow the directives of the Marine Corps and U.S. Forces Korea, which have already banned the display of the Confederate battle flag. The Navy has also said it plans to do so.   

The Army, meanwhile, has said it was open to renaming its 10 bases named for Confederates.

Meanwhile, in Congress: In Congress, the House Armed Services Committee last week approved an amendment to the to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) to ban the display of the Confederate battle flag on all Pentagon property.

The Senate’s version of the NDAA already includes a requirement to rename bases and other property within three years. 

And a House spending bill for military construction would block funding for projects at bases named after Confederate leaders unless the properties are in the process of being renamed.

The fiscal 2021 appropriations bill for military construction and the Department of Veterans Affairs would prohibit funding from going to military construction projects “located on a military installation bearing the name of a confederate officer, except in the case that a process to replace such names has been initiated,” according to draft text released by the House Appropriations Committee.

HOUSE SPENDING BILL ADDRESSES WALL, NUCLEAR ISSUES: A House spending bill for military construction would block funding from going to Trump’s wall on the U.S.-Mexico border.

The fiscal 2021 spending bill for military construction and the Department of Veterans Affairs would prohibit military construction funding appropriated since fiscal 2016 from being used on barriers on the southern border and roads to access a barrier on the border, according to draft text released by the House Appropriations Committee.

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It would also prohibit funding for projects that were delayed because Trump declared a national emergency and dipped into military construction for the wall, according to the text.

The provision is included in a $250.9 billion spending bill that would give $10.1 billion to military construction in fiscal 2021. The House Appropriations Subcommittee on Military Construction, Veteran Affairs and Related Agencies will consider the bill Monday night.

Separately, the House Appropriations Committee’s spending bill for the Department of Homeland Security would prohibit construction of a border wall. 

Background: Trump declared an emergency last year after a prolonged government shutdown over his request for border wall funding ended with Congress appropriating less than he requested.

Since then, Trump has taken $3.6 billion from military construction to be used on the wall. He has separately dipped into other Pentagon accounts to move billions more into the department’s counterdrug fund to use on the wall.

The moves have infuriated Democrats, and a few Republicans, who say Trump is ignoring Congress’s power of the purse. But legislative efforts to stop him have faltered in the past.

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Possible blocked funding for nuclear testing: The House Appropriation Committee’s draft fiscal 2021 appropriations bill for the Energy Department, meanwhile, would ban funding from being used to conduct a nuclear test.

The draft bill would prohibit funding from being used to “conduct, or prepare to conduct, any explosive nuclear weapons test that produces any yield,” according to text released Monday.

“Critically, the bill would prevent the Trump administration from using any funds to carry out its dangerous and short-sighted plan to resume nuclear testing,” committee Chairwoman Nita LoweyNita Sue LoweySpending deal clears obstacle in shutdown fight GSA offers to brief Congress next week on presidential transition Biden aide: First Cabinet picks will be announced Tuesday, GSA holdup preventing background checks MORE (D-N.Y.) said in a statement Monday.

Why it was added: The provision was included in the panel’s energy spending bill after reports earlier this year that the Trump administration raised the prospect of resuming nuclear testing as a negotiating tactic against Moscow and Beijing.

The Trump administration is seeking a trilateral nuclear agreement with Russia and China to replace the expiring bilateral New START nuclear treaty with Russia. But Beijing has repeatedly rejected the administration’s invitation to join nuclear talks.

The Washington Post first reported in May that the idea of conducting the United States’s first nuclear test in decades was raised at a May 15 meeting of senior officials. One official told the Post the idea for a test is “very much an ongoing conversation,” while another official said a decision was made to avoid resuming testing.

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A long-retired practice: The United States has not conducted an explosive nuclear test since 1992, checking the efficacy and reliability of its weapons instead with subcritical tests that produce no nuclear yield, computer simulations and other scientific methods.

The only country known to have conducted a nuclear test this century is North Korea.

The Trump administration, without evidence, has also in recent months accused Russia and China of conducting very low-yield tests.

A slippery slope: Opponents of resuming nuclear testing, including Democrats and arms control advocates, argue a U.S. test would trigger nuclear testing by other countries and open the door to an arms race. An explosive would also be detrimental to human health and the environment without providing any benefits to studying the U.S. nuclear arsenal, they argue.

Last month, top House Democrats, including Lowey, sent a letter to the Pentagon and Energy Department calling the idea of conducting a nuclear test “unfathomable.”

In the Senate: The Senate’s version of a defense policy bill, meanwhile, would back preparations for a nuclear test.

An amendment to the Senate Armed Services Committee’s version of the National Defense Authorization Act offered by Sen. Tom CottonTom Bryant CottonO'Brien on 2024 talk: 'There's all kinds of speculation out there' Loeffler isolating after possible COVID-19 infection More conservatives break with Trump over election claims MORE (R-Ark.) would make at least $10 million available to “carry out projects related to reducing the time required to execute a nuclear test if necessary.” The amendment was approved in a party line 14-13 vote last month. 

ON TAP FOR TOMORROW

Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert WilkieRobert Leon WilkieOvernight Defense: Trump loyalist to lead Pentagon transition | Democrats ask VA for vaccine distribution plan | Biden to get classified intel reports Senate Democrats press VA for vaccine distribution plan Overnight Defense: Pentagon faces leadership shakeup after Trump fires Esper | Trump approves UAE weapons package | Senate panel proposes 6B spending bill MORE will speak to reporters via telephone at 9 a.m. through George Washington University’s Defense Writers Group. 

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