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No. 2 GOP senator: Time to look at changing Confederate-named bases

Sen. John ThuneJohn Randolph ThunePressure builds for coronavirus relief with no clear path to deal McConnell offering new coronavirus relief bill after talks with Mnuchin, Meadows Murkowski: Trump should concede White House race MORE (S.D.), the No. 2 Senate Republican, said on Tuesday that it is time to discuss renaming military bases named after Confederate figures and signaled that he is open to talking about changing the names.

"I think you reevaluate, given the timing and circumstances and where we are in the country, who we want to revere ... by naming military installations and other national monuments. And so I think you have to periodically take a look at that and, in this case, it's perhaps time to do it," he told reporters.

The Senate Armed Services Committee last week included a provision, by voice vote, that would form a commission to come up with a plan to rename the bases, which would then be implemented after three years.

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Asked about the issue on Thursday, Thune told reporters that he wasn't aware of the panel's vote. He said on Monday that he has been "working through" the issue and that he is not "wedded to the idea that those names of those military installations are eternal."

"My guess is that this is a debate whose time has probably come and I think that we need to listen to where people in the country are right now. ... Obviously, at the time, maybe it made some sense based on where the country [was], but the country's in a different place today," Thune added.

Thune is the highest-ranking Republican to signal that he could be open to changing the base names, though he did not explicitly say he supports the language, spearheaded by Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenOn The Money: McConnell offering new coronavirus relief bill | Biden introduces economic team, vows swift action on relief | Rare Mnuchin-Powell spat takes center stage at COVID-19 hearing Biden introduces economic team, vows swift action on struggling economy Louisville mayor declares racism a public health crisis MORE (D-Mass.), included in the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellPressure builds for coronavirus relief with no clear path to deal Top GOP senator warns government funding deal unlikely this week Criminal justice groups offer support for Durbin amid fight for Judiciary spot MORE (R-Ky.) has not yet said if he believes Confederate-named bases should be renamed. He was asked late last week about the amendment included in the NDAA and told reporters "that will be up to the committee to decide."

The Senate is expected to take up the NDAA as soon as this month.

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Some GOP senators, including Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman James InhofeJames (Jim) Mountain InhofeCongress set for chaotic year-end sprint House Democrats back slower timeline for changing Confederate base names Barrasso to seek top spot on Energy and Natural Resources Committee MORE (R-Okla.) and Sen. Josh HawleyJoshua (Josh) David HawleyTime to bring federal employees home for every holiday Biden's Cabinet a battleground for future GOP White House hopefuls The Memo: GOP mulls its future after Trump MORE (R-Mo.), have indicated they will try to change the language on renaming Confederate bases. Inhofe has said he wants to change the requirement that the Pentagon "shall" carry out the plan on renaming the military installations to "may," which would give them flexibility to decide whether to change the names.

Hawley told reporters on Monday night that he wanted to get rid of the mandate requiring that the base names be changed.

But Republicans could face an uphill battle to get the language changed on the Senate floor.

Thune said on Tuesday that he expects changing the language will require 60 votes, meaning they would need buy-in from Democrats.

"I know Sen. Inhofe has expressed an interest in having, you know, maybe looking at giving cities and communities and states input, that being in the process but by and large, you know, it came out of the committee, it’s in the base bill, it’ll probably take 60 votes to get it out," Thune said.

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The requirement to change the name of the bases has sparked pushback from President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump alludes to possible 2024 run in White House remarks Trump threatens to veto defense bill over tech liability shield Tiger King's attorney believes they're close to getting pardon from Trump MORE, with the White House warning that he would veto a bill that required that they be changed.

Thune said while Congress didn't want to "trifle" with a veto threat, it also wasn't "insurmountable" and floated the possibility that Trump could change his mind.

"Maybe, in time, you know the president's position on that based on what he's hearing and kind of where Congress ends up on this, he may end up, who knows, modifying that to," Thune said.

"I don't know at this point the answer to that, but I think we have to, we have to proceed here, and you know right now we've got a provision in a bill that at least for right now looks like that's going to be maybe the new position. We've got a lot of legislative process to go through," he added.

The push to rename U.S. military bases named for Confederate leaders has gained momentum in the wake of nationwide protests over the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis last month. Confederate statues have been toppled or defaced in multiple cities in recent weeks.