Confederate military base name change prompts sharp Trump veto threat
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By Lauren Meier
The Washington Times
Tuesday, July 21, 2020
President Trump on Tuesday issued a blistering threat to veto the House’s version of the massive 2021 defense policy bill if it contains language that would rename military bases that honor Confederate leaders.
The veto threat, which also attacked provisions to curb the president’s plans to reduce troops in Afghanistan and Germany, came as lawmakers in both the House and Senate moved toward approving their separate versions of the $740.5 billion National Defense Authorization Act, which sets policy and spending standards for the coming year.
On a 295-125 vote, the Democratic-controlled House on Tuesday evening approved its version of the NDAA, which includes a provision that would mandate the names of 12 military bases that are named for Confederate leaders within one year. The bill, which includes a 3% pay raise for military personnel, attracted enough support to theoretically override a presidential veto, including more than 100 House Republicans.
The Senate’s version of the bill, which is expected to be voted on this week, includes similar language but would mandate the change over the period of three years.
The name change attracted some Republican support in both chambers.
“If [the House NDAA] were presented to the president in its current form, his senior advisors would recommend that he veto it,” said the 13-page memo addressed to the Democratic and Republican leaders of the House Armed Services Committee.
Mr. Trump has repeatedly threatened to veto the must-pass legislation if it contains provisions to rename the military bases. His latest veto threat applies heightened pressure to congressional Republicans, many of whom have already backed amendments to implement the changes.
The White House has not yet issued a formal threat to veto the Republican-led Senate’s version of the NDAA.
“President Trump has been clear in his opposition to politically motivated attempts like this to rewrite history and to displace the enduring legacy of the American Revolution with a new left-wing cultural revolution,” the memo said.
Calls for the military to confront racism within its ranks were sparked following George Floyd’s death, a Black man who died in police custody. Defense Secretary Mark Esper last week announced an effective ban on the display of Confederate flags at military facilities, but did so without mentioning the symbol by name.
Despite the political firestorm, Mr. Trump could point to a nationwide poll released Tuesday found that half of Americans do not support renaming military bases that honor Confederate leaders.
Fifty percent of U.S. adults said they are against renaming military bases named after Confederate generals, and 42% said they support it, according to ABC News/Washington Post polling. By a 52% to 43% margin, Americans also said they are against removing statues honoring Confederate generals from public places.
Mr. Trump argues that casting Confederate figures and symbols as racist is absurd, given that the sites have served as key training grounds for soldiers who went on to fight in World War II and other conflicts.
But lawmakers of both parties have backed efforts to rename North Carolina’s Fort Bragg, Virginia’s Fort Lee and the other 10 Army installations that bear the names of Confederate figures. Republican members have introduced legislation to block the move, but the efforts have failed in both chambers.
Several prominent retired generals have also supported the move to rename bases, arguing that the Confederate figures not only supported the slave states, but that they had tried to destroy the United States.
In the veto threat, the Trump administration also cited bipartisan policy issues included in the House’s bill that seek to curtail Mr. Trump’s hopes of reducing the number of American troops in Afghanistan and Germany, as well as limiting the amount of military funds that can be used for construction of a border wall with Mexico.
“[The White House] also has serious concerns about provisions of the bill that seek to micromanage aspects of the executive branch’s authority, impose highly prescriptive limitations on the use of funds for Afghanistan, and otherwise constrain the President’s authority to protect national security interests,” the Office of Management and Budget argued in the veto message.
“Many of these provisions would pose significant challenges to continued execution of the [National Defense Strategy].”