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McConnell: Trump shouldn't veto defense bill over renaming Confederate bases

McConnell: Trump shouldn't veto defense bill over renaming Confederate bases
© Bonnie Cash

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellImmigration, executive action top Biden preview of first 100 days Spending deal clears obstacle in shutdown fight McConnell pushed Trump to nominate Barrett on the night of Ginsburg's death: report MORE (R-Ky.) on Wednesday said he hopes President TrumpDonald John TrumpMinnesota certifies Biden victory Trump tells allies he plans to pardon Michael Flynn: report Republican John James concedes in Michigan Senate race MORE does not veto a mammoth defense bill over a plan that requires the Pentagon to change the names of bases named after Confederate figures.

“Well, I would hope the president really wouldn't veto the bill over this issue. ... I hope the president will reconsider vetoing the entire defense bill, which includes pay raises for our troops, over a provision in there that could lead to changing the names,” McConnell said during an interview with Fox News.

McConnell's remarks are a break with Trump, who earlier in the day threatened to veto the defense bill if a provision on renaming the bases is in the final version of the legislation that makes it to his desk later this year.

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“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 tweeted on Wednesday morning.

As part of the Senate Armed Services Committee's consideration of the bill, senators agreed, with a voice vote, to include language that states that within three years the Defense Secretary "shall implement the plan submitted by the commission ... and remove all names, symbols, displays, monuments, and paraphernalia that honor or commemorate the Confederate States of America ... or any person who served voluntarily with the Confederate States of America from all assets of the Department of Defense."

The requirement that the Pentagon rename the bases has sparked divisions among Republicans with several backing a proposal, spearheaded by Sen. Josh HawleyJoshua (Josh) David HawleyDemocrats brush off calls for Biden to play hardball on Cabinet picks Rush Limbaugh lauds Hawley: 'This guy is the real deal' Trump told advisers he could announce 2024 bid shortly after certification of Biden win: report MORE (R-Mo.), that would remove the requirement that the Pentagon carry out the plan. It would instead create a one-year commission to study the issue and determine what to do about the bases. 

"What it does it just says let's get this out in the open. It mandates public hearings. The whole process gets moved out in the public, out from behind closed doors. So I think it's a really common sense thing, finding common ground. ... I think that would take the issues that the president seems to have," Hawley told reporters on Wednesday.

But opponents of the current language are unlikely to be able to get it removed before the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) passes the Senate.

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Democrats would be able to block attempts to bring it up for an amendment vote. If McConnell forces a vote on the amendment, something he has not said he would do, supporters of changing the language would need 60 votes to be successful. That would also allow Democrats to block attempts to change the current language.

Sen. John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneDemocrats brush off calls for Biden to play hardball on Cabinet picks Overnight Defense: Pentagon set for tighter virus restrictions as top officials tests positive | Military sees 11th COVID-19 death | House Democrats back Senate language on Confederate base names Trump keeps tight grip on GOP amid divisions MORE (S.D.), the No. 2 Senate Republican, warned that it was premature to focus on one specific provision before Congress had a final product, but predicted the bill would pass the Senate initially with bipartisan support. 

“I do think it's going to be a big bipartisan vote coming out of the Senate. We'll go to conference with the House and see what we can come up with,” Thune said.

House Democrats are expected to include language on renaming Confederate bases in that chamber's version of the NDAA. Once the two chambers pass the bill they will need to form a conference committee to work out their differences and hammer out a final bill.

Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerUS national security policy in the 117th Congress and a new administration Voters say Biden should make coronavirus vaccine a priority: poll New York City subway service could be slashed 40 percent, officials warn MORE (D-N.Y.) also predicted that Trump would back down from his veto threat. 

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“Let me make a prediction: First, that provision will not change in this bill as it moves through the House and the Senate. Second, let me predict that President Trump will not veto a bill that contains pay raises for our troops and crucial support for our military,” Schumer said.

But Senate Armed Services Committee James InhofeJames (Jim) Mountain InhofeHouse Democrats back slower timeline for changing Confederate base names Barrasso to seek top spot on Energy and Natural Resources Committee Overnight Defense: Trump orders troop drawdown in Afghanistan and Iraq | Key Republicans call Trump plan a 'mistake' MORE (R-Okla.) said he believed Trump was “dead serious” about his veto threat.

“There will have to be a change from the way it is now,” he told reporters.

--Updated at 3:27 p.m.