President Donald Trump is spoiling for a fight over the Confederacy just weeks after widespread protests kicked off a nationwide conversation on racism and police brutality. Democrats say he’s on the wrong side of history and are welcoming the clash with open arms.
“This is nothing but typical bluster,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said Wednesday after Trump threatened to veto the annual defense spending bill if it includes a mandate to rename military bases named for Confederate military leaders.
“We will scrub from our military bases the names of men who fought for the Confederacy, who took up arms against our country,” Schumer pledged.
The massive $740 billion defense bill the Senate took up this week includes an amendment sponsored by Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) that would require the Pentagon to change the names of the bases as well as other memorials named for Confederate leaders who fought against the Union during the Civil War. The measure was approved by a bipartisan voice vote last month in the Republican-controlled Senate Armed Services Committee.
Ten military bases across the country were named after Confederate generals as part of the “Lost Cause” narrative that became popular in the South in the early 20th century.
“These bases were not named in the years following the Civil War. No. They were named decades and decades later, during the Jim Crow era, to strengthen a movement that tried to glorify the Confederacy and reinforce white supremacy,” Warren said Tuesday in a floor speech.
In my view, I just don’t think it’s that big a deal. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.)
In a tweet on Tuesday evening, however, Trump threatened to veto the bill and set up a showdown not only with Democrats, but also with Republican senators who believe it’s time to begin the process of changing the names of the bases.
“In my view, I just don’t think it’s that big a deal,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said Wednesday. “I just feel like in today’s environment in the country that this is not a bad exercise. Let’s sit down and think of new heroes ― American heroes ― to name these bases.”
The annual defense bill establishes spending levels for various military initiatives, funds salaries of U.S. troops worldwide, and supports countless jobs. President Barack Obama last vetoed the bill in 2015 over GOP restrictions on the transfer of detainees being held at Guantanamo Bay.
Republican leaders expressed optimism about resolving the issue so it would not result in a presidential veto.
“It’s not an empty threat, but he won’t have a reason for doing it if we do our job and we develop the bill the way it should be developed, and that will happen,” Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, told reporters on Wednesday. Inhofe supports Trump’s stance on the matter.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), meanwhile, has said he would be “OK” with renaming military bases such as Fort Bragg in North Carolina that are named after Confederate Army officers.
“I would really hope the president wouldn’t veto the bill over this issue,” McConnell told Fox News in an interview on Wednesday.
Statues of Confederate leaders and other slavery advocates have been graffitied and toppled by protesters in Richmond, Virginia ― once the capital of the Confederacy ― as well as in Washington, D.C.; Nashville, Tennessee; and Dallas. Some activists have gone further, targeting statues of Christopher Columbus and George Washington.
Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), who has introduced an amendment that would repeal the requirement in the defense bill to rename military bases, said “the left-wing mob” was behind the effort to rename military bases in order to appease “cancel culture.”
The Missouri Republican said “whether or not there was valorization” of Confederate military leaders should be studied first, and the ultimate decision of renaming bases left up to their communities.
But Warren rejected that argument, saying the point of Hawley’s measure was simply to strip her amendment from the bill.
“The current bill already includes a commission charged with thoughtfully executing the requirement to remove these names from U.S. military installations and it requires consultation with local officials,” Warren said Tuesday.
Hawley hasn’t received assurances that his amendment will receive a vote. However, even if it does, it would require 60 votes for passage ― an unlikely scenario given the bipartisan support for renaming military bases.