Trump Would Rather Veto the Military Spending Bill Than Rename Bases That Honor Confederates

Sen. Elizabeth Warren's amendment ties military funding to renaming the bases, and Trump made his position very clear.
July 1, 2020, 2:13pm
AP Photo/Chris Seward, File
AP Photo/Chris Seward, File

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President Donald Trump is drawing a line in the sand: Either U.S. military bases named after Confederate generals keep their monikers, or he’s vetoing the entire defense spending bill for this year.

On Tuesday, Sen. Elizabeth Warren spoke in favor of an amendment she proposed last month to the $740 billion National Defense Authorization Act that would rename military installations named after people who voluntarily fought for the Confederacy, such as Fort Bragg in North Carolina and Fort Lee in Virginia.

“Removing the names, symbols, displays, monuments, and paraphernalia that honor or commemorate the Confederacy and anyone who voluntarily served it from military property is, in the broader scheme, only one step toward addressing systemic racism in our society,” Warren said in a floor speech Tuesday.

“But it is an important step. It will bring us closer to acknowledging the truth of that ugly past, and it will give us a firmer foundation on which to build a better future for everyone.”

Late Tuesday night, Trump responded by saying he’d rather veto the entire bill than allow the bases to be renamed. He then retweeted his own tweet on Wednesday morning, just to make sure everyone saw it.

“I will Veto the Defense Authorization Bill if the Elizabeth “Pocahontas” Warren (of all people!) Amendment, which will lead to the renaming (plus other bad things!) of Fort Bragg, Fort Robert E. Lee, and many other Military Bases from which we won Two World Wars, is in the Bill!” Trump said.

The fight sets up a clash not just between Trump and the Democrats but also between him and other members of his party. Rep. Don Bacon, a retired Air Force brigadier general, has introduced a similar proposal in the House, telling NPR last month: “Now is the time to embrace our values 'that all men are created equal and endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights.'"

“I’m not wedded to the idea that those names of those military installations are eternal,” Sen. John Thune of South Dakota, the number-two Republican in the Senate, told the Washington Post last month.

There are currently 10 U.S. Army installations named after Confederate generals and others who fought for the cause of slavery. That includes its biggest installation—Fort Bragg in North Carolina—as well as Georgia’s Fort Gordon, named for a man who is generally accepted to have been a former head of the Ku Klux Klan in that state.

When Warren proposed the amendment, the White House made its opinion known: Trump tweeted his disapproval and press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said it would be an “insult” to the soldiers stationed at Fort Bragg to rename their base, which is named for Confederate general Braxton Bragg, a slave owner who was responsible for the deaths of tens of thousands of U.S. soldiers over the course of several Civil War battles, including Chickamauga.

The Senate Armed Services Committee passed a version of Warren’s amendment with support from both Democrats and Republicans in June. The amendment stipulates that bases currently named for members of the Confederacy will be renamed within three years, and implements a process to rename and replace the bases and assets. (Bacon’s bill, co-sponsored with fellow veteran and Democratic Rep. Anthony Brown of Maryland, would remove the names within one year.)

“I dare President Trump to veto the bill over Confederate base-naming,” Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer told reporters on Tuesday. “It’s in the bill. It has bipartisan support. It will stay in the bill.”

Cover: This Jan. 4, 2020 file photo shows a sign for at Fort Bragg, N.C. (AP Photo/Chris Seward, File)