WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump Tuesday formally threatened to veto an annual “must-pass” military bill — including pay raises for troops — to prevent the renaming of military bases currently honoring Confederate traitors.
The White House’s “Statement of Administration Policy” on the House version of the National Defense Authorization Act claims that the provision “is part of a sustained effort to erase from the history of the Nation those who do not meet an ever-shifting standard of conduct.” The document warns that should the legislation arrive on Trump’s desk the way it is currently written, “his senior advisors would recommend that he veto it.”
Trump has made similar statements previously in interviews and Twitter posts, but the formal document from the Office of Management and Budget is the traditional way of communicating a veto threat to Congress.
“He’s totally misjudging the moment,” said Stuart Stevens, a Republican political consultant who worked on the campaigns of George W. Bush and Mitt Romney and is a seventh-generation Mississippian. The state last month passed legislation removing the Confederate flag from its state flag.
“Mississippi took down its Confederate battle flag and Trump is trying to raise it over the White House,” Stevens said.
The president defended the base names as well as the Confederate battle flag in a Fox News interview conducted last week.
“When people ― when people proudly have their Confederate flags, they’re not talking about racism. They love their flag, it represents the South, they like the South,” Trump said. “People right now like the South.”
Both House and Senate versions of the NDAA contain the military base language, which would require the Pentagon to rename bases currently named “after a person who served in the political or military leadership of any armed rebellion against the United States.”
It would apply to 10 Army bases named after leaders of the Confederacy who, by definition, committed treason against the United States between 1861 and 1865 by taking up arms against the government. They are located in six states, from Texas to Virginia, that left the Union, according to their articles of secession, for the purpose of protecting the right to own Black slaves, and include Fort Bragg in North Carolina and Fort Benning in Georgia.
Trump has claimed that renaming those bases would dishonor troops who trained there and were stationed there prior to being shipped overseas to fight wars.
The former states of the Confederacy strongly supported Trump, as they have most other Republican presidential nominees since Democrat Lyndon Johnson pushed through the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act in the 1960s.
In 2016, while the 11 former Confederate states accounted for 32% of the country’s population, they made up 48% of Trump’s electoral votes, according to a HuffPost analysis of voting and population data.
Trump beat Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton 147 to 13 in electoral votes from those states and won the popular vote 52% to 44%. Among the non-Confederate states, Clinton beat Trump 219 to 159 in electoral votes and won the popular vote 50% to 43%.
Overall, Clinton won the popular vote 48% to 46%, winning 3 million more actual ballots than Trump, but she lost in the Electoral College 306 to 232.
Yet while Trump’s vocal enthusiasm for reminders of the Confederacy could help maintain support from a segment of his voting base, it may well be turning off other groups.
Also last month, NASCAR ― long a bastion of fans waving Confederate flags and other iconography ― banned the symbol from its races.
Trump has criticized NASCAR for its decision, as well as Bubba Wallace, a Black NASCAR driver whose garage door pull at a race track was found to have been fashioned into a noose — even though it was NASCAR, not Wallace, who reported the incident. The FBI later concluded that the noose had not targeted Wallace specifically.
“Has @BubbaWallace apologized to all of those great NASCAR drivers & officials who came to his aid, stood by his side, & were willing to sacrifice everything for him, only to find out that the whole thing was just another HOAX? That & Flag decision has caused lowest ratings EVER!” Trump wrote in a statement he posted to Twitter.