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Biden orders flags flown at half-staff — then orders them back up, as two events collide

By MATT VISER | The Washington Post | Published: May 15, 2021

WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden initially ordered flags on Saturday to be flown at half-staff. Then he ordered them back up at full staff.

It's because of a quirk that comes up every half dozen years or so, when a day that honors two groups collides — with two different protocols for the American flag. For Peace Officers Memorial Day, which falls on May 15, flags are supposed to be at half-staff. But the third Saturday in May is marked to honor Armed Forces Day — and on that day, flags are supposed to be full staff.

On Saturday, those two days were one and the same.

Biden's initial proclamation last week said that flags should be flown at half-staff. But he reissued a proclamation on Friday making clear that flags were to remain at full-staff.

The White House declined to comment on the record about the change, but suggested that it was done to remain in compliance with U.S. codes honoring Armed Forces Day.

"The flag shall be flown at half-staff on Peace Officers Memorial Day, unless that day is also Armed Forces Day," reads the U.S. code pertaining to the flag.

"This weekend is a once-in-a-decade scenario based on the flag code," said a White House official, who was not authorized to speak publicly. "As a result, flag code dictates that the flags should not be lowered today. The president stands by the message of his proclamation and his longtime commitment to working with law enforcement to build safer communities."

Still, a number of Republicans have criticized Biden, saying that his decision was done to offend police officers.

"In his opinion they aren't worthy of lowering the flags," Rep. Brian Mast, R-Fla., wrote on Twitter. "Unacceptable!"

Several other members of Congress and prominent Republicans amplified his message.

"In case you had any question as to where President Biden stands on police, now you know," said Kayleigh McEnany, who was White House press secretary during the Trump administration.

New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu, a Republican, called Biden's decision "outrageous" and said his state would continue flying flags at half-staff.

It will be years before the two dates are the same again.

But to make it more confusing, some states already have their flags at half-staff for other reasons — including Delaware, where Biden is traveling on Saturday afternoon. Gov. John Carney, a Democrat, has ordered flags at half-staff in his state in honor of former Pierre Samuel "Pete" du Pont IV, who recently died.