Senate Republicans shrug off Trump’s veto threat over renaming Confederate bases

Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) acknowledged that it might be difficult to work through the amendment process on the behemoth yearly bill, but noted that it would be several months before the legislation actually reaches Trump’s desk.

“The veto would take place sometime probably in November,” Inhofe said. “And we have a long, long time between now and November. So we’ll see.”

The blasé responses from Senate Republicans followed a midnight tweet from the president in which he said he would veto the defense bill unless the Senate scrubs an amendment from Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) that requires the Pentagon to remove the names of Confederate military figures from all U.S. bases, aircraft, and other facilities and equipment within three years.

It’s highly unlikely that Warren’s amendment will be removed from the legislation; it would take 60 votes on the Senate floor to get rid of it. And even if Trump vetoes the bill, it is expected to pass with a veto-proof majority in both chambers.

The amendment was approved by the GOP-led Senate Armed Services Committee in June during a closed-door markup. Several Republicans have since spoken out in support of the plan, despite Trump’s long-standing opposition to eliminating Confederate names from military bases.

“We knew that there was a possibility to begin with, and it’ll still continue to be a part of the question,” Rounds said of Trump’s veto threat.

The move to rename bases also comes as America faces a reckoning over racial injustice, generated in part by the killing of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man, by police in Minneapolis and subsequent nationwide protests over police brutality.

Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) introduced an amendment to the defense bill that would instead create a commission to address the issue of whether to rename the military bases. The amendment has support from a variety of Republicans, including Rounds. The amendment would need 60 votes on the floor to pass.

“I think a vote on that would solve this problem,” Hawley said.

Warren, like other Democrats, predicted that her provision will remain in the final bill, due at least in part to the 60-vote threshold.

“The decision to remove the names of Confederate generals who took up arms against the United States in defense of slavery was a bipartisan decision that came out of the committee, and it’s going to stay in the defense budget,” Warren said Wednesday in a brief interview. “The president can do what he wants, but it stays.”

Trump’s veto threat came after White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany in early June called the amendment an “absolute nonstarter” for the president. Defense Secretary Mark Esper and Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy initially expressed an openness to renaming bases named after Confederate figures — only to later face opposition by Trump himself.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) declined to weigh in on Trump’s veto threat Wednesday, but he has previously signalled support for the renaming effort.

“If It’s appropriate to take another look at these names, I’m personally OK with that — and I am a descendant of a Confederate veteran myself,” McConnell said last month. “With regard to military bases, whatever is ultimately decided, I don’t have a problem with.”

Senate Democrats, meanwhile, predicted on Wednesday that Trump would not actually veto the bill over his objections to Warren’s amendment, noting that the legislation includes a pay raise for American servicemembers and other priorities of the White House.

“This is typical bluster from President Trump,” said Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), who dared the president to veto the measure on Tuesday. “The NDAA will pass and we will scrub from our military bases the names of men who fought for the Confederacy and took up arms against our country.”

Some GOP senators, though, agree with the president on the preservation of Confederate bases. Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.), for example, introduced an amendment to the defense bill that would rename all U.S. military bases after Medal of Honor winners.

“If we’re going to do this fairly, we should reevaluate all bases,” Kennedy said.

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