Despite veto warning, House lawmakers plan to force renaming bases honoring Confederacy

Abbie Bennett
July 02, 2020 - 12:27 pm
One of the entrance signs to facillities in Fort Bragg May 13, 2004 in Fayettville, North Carolina.

Photo by Logan Mock-Bunting/Getty Images

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Wednesday evening, a House panel passed a measure that would force Pentagon leaders to rename military bases honoring Confederate leaders within one year.

House Armed Services lawmakers moved forward with the plan as part of larger debate on the annual defense spending bill. The Senate version of the bill, recently passed out of committee, includes a similar measure. 

Both defy warnings and threats from the president that he would veto a defense spending bill that included such a provision. 

The change would affect at least 10 military bases, mostly Army, including Fort Bragg in North Carolina; Fort Benning and Fort Gordon in Georgia; Fort Hood in Texas; Fort Polk and Camp Beauregard in Louisiana; Fort Lee, Fort A.P Hill and Fort Pickett in Virginia; and Fort Rucker in Alabama. 

Within those U.S. installations and others around the globe are other buildings, monuments, streets and other places and landmarks honoring the Confederacy. The committee's plan also includes a ban on the Confederate flag on all Defense Department properties, though the Senate's version does not.

The committee approved the base-renaming measure in a 33-23 vote, falling largely along party lines. The provision was sponsored by Rep. Anthony Brown, D-Md., an Iraq War veteran who also sponsored the measure to ban the Confederate flag. 

“These are officers that led the Confederacy in rebellion to our country,” Brown said during the panel's markup of the bill Wednesday. “They represented a defense of keeping slavery in our union.”

Brown said his measure was necessary to end "pain and suffering" caused by the continued presence of symbols honoring the Confederacy and calling it an "overdue change." 

"These bases honor traitors who fought to uphold slavery," Brown said in a tweet. "It's time to rename them." 

Late Tuesday, President Donald Trump tweeted that he would veto any defense spending bill that included an effort to strip the Confederate names from bases. 

Republicans on the panel argued for a longer timeline than the year the measure set, or, instead of forcing the Pentagon to change the names, suggested establishing committees to review the names and make recommendations, leaving the decision ultimately to defense officials. The Democratic majority voted down that amendment. 

“We have to come to terms with our history, why that was done, what that represents to a lot of people,” House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith, D-Wash., said. “If they were, in fact, named for people who participated in the rebellion against the United States ... these should be changed.”

The Senate's version of the bill includes a similar effort to rename bases, authored by Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass. 

On Thursday, Senate Armed Services Chairman Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., said "all but one Republican" on the committee voted against plans to force the Pentagon to rename the bases in the Senate version of the bill. 

Republicans in the House and Senate still have time to offer amendments and participate in debate on both versions of the National Defense Authorization Act when those massive bills come to the floor of each chamber for votes. 

The larger bills, totaling more than $740 billion, include the Defense Department budget for the coming year, including pay raises for troops and equipment purchases, as well as defense policy measures such as troop movements, efforts to address sexual assault in the ranks and provide childcare options for military families.

The defense authorization bill has passed Congress every year for 59 years in a row. This year would mark the 60th. 

House Armed Services lawmakers spent more than 13 hours debating their version of the bill Wednesday. 

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Reach Abbie Bennett: abbie@connectingvets.com or @AbbieRBennett.

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