Republicans fear backlash over Trump's threatened veto on Confederate names

Senate Republicans fear President TrumpDonald John TrumpJoe Arpaio loses bid for his old position as sheriff Trump brushes off view that Russia denigrating Biden: 'Nobody's been tougher on Russia than I have' Trump tees up executive orders on economy but won't sign yet MORE is putting them into a political no-win situation by threatening to veto a popular defense policy bill over bipartisan language to rename military bases named after Confederate generals.

GOP lawmakers are trying to wave the president off his veto threat and may end up delaying the bill to avoid a political disaster before Election Day.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellCoronavirus talks collapse as negotiators fail to reach deal Pelosi, Schumer say White House declined T coronavirus deal COVID-19 bill limiting liability would strike the wrong balance MORE (R-Ky.) on Wednesday urged Trump not to veto the $740.5 billion bill over a provision sponsored by Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenDemocratic convention lineup to include Ocasio-Cortez, Clinton, Warren: reports Whitmer met with Biden days before VP announcement: report The Hill's Campaign Report: US officials say Russia, China are looking to sow discord in election MORE (D-Mass.) mandating the secretary of Defense rename military installations named after Confederate generals.

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“I would hope the president really wouldn't veto the bill over this issue,” McConnell told Fox News. “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.”

With Trump and several Senate GOP incumbents down in the polls to Democratic opponents, Republican lawmakers are not looking forward to a racially charged debate in Congress over preserving the memories of Confederate generals.

“We are now in an era of live grenades lying around. Nobody wants to jump on them,” said Sen. Pat RobertsCharles (Pat) Patrick RobertsMcConnell goes hands-off on coronavirus relief bill The Hill's Campaign Report: COVID-19 puts conventions in flux  The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by the Air Line Pilots Association - Virus bill unlikely to pass this week MORE (R-Kan.).

A messy partisan fight over bases named after Confederate generals could also further drive away swing suburban voters, who are already dropping away from Trump, according to recent polls.

Trump on Sunday tweeted and then deleted a video of a support at a retirement community in Florida chanting “white power,” further exacerbating the fears of GOP lawmakers that his style is too divisive.

If Trump doesn’t relent on the threatened veto, it’s likely Republicans will not let the defense policy bill go to the president’s desk before the Nov. 3 general election.

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“It will probably be November by the time it would be coming to his desk anyway. A lot can happen between now and then,” Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman James InhofeJames (Jim) Mountain InhofeSenate GOP divided over whether they'd fill Supreme Court vacancy  Controversial Trump nominee placed in senior role after nomination hearing canceled Chamber of Commerce endorses Ernst for reelection MORE (R-Okla.) told reporters Wednesday. He said “of course it would” be a mistake to veto the defense bill and expressed hope the base-naming provision could somehow be removed from the bill, asserting “there’s lots of pathways” to do so. 

Sen. Josh HawleyJoshua (Josh) David HawleyHillicon Valley: Facebook bans ads from pro-Trump PAC | Uber reports big drop in revenue | US offers M reward for election interference info Senate passes legislation to ban TikTok on federal devices Yates spars with GOP at testy hearing MORE (R-Mo.), a rising conservative star, for example, has an amendment to remove the mandate for the Defense secretary to change the base names.

But others in the GOP, including Senate Republican Whip John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneThe Hill's 12:30 Report: White House, Dems debate coronavirus relief package The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by the Air Line Pilots Association - Key 48 hours loom as negotiators push for relief deal Trump dismisses legal questions on GOP nomination speech at White House MORE (S.D.), warn it will be extremely difficult to remove the base-naming language. Doing so on the Senate floor would require 60 votes, and the entire Democratic conference and several Republicans support the provision.

The prospects of taking it out in a Senate-House conference negotiation is also unlikely because the House is expected to add similar, if not stronger, language to its version of the bill. 

That means the surest way to avoid a veto before Election Day is to keep the bill off Trump’s desk until after Nov. 3 — unless the president changes his mind. 

Republicans view the defense bill, formally known as the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), as must-pass legislation. It has been passed annually for 59 consecutive years and is seen as a crucial benchmark of governance.

Republicans are leery about a battle with Democrats over preserving the legacies of Confederate generals at a time when the Black Lives Matter movement and social justice are dominating the national political conversation.

Three Republicans on the Armed Services Committee supported changing the names of military bases during the panel's voice vote last month. The trio included two Republicans in tough reelection races, Sens. Martha McSallyMartha Elizabeth McSallyFrom a Republican donor to Senate GOP: Remove marriage penalty or risk alienating voters Hillicon Valley: Facebook bans ads from pro-Trump PAC | Uber reports big drop in revenue | US offers M reward for election interference info Senate passes legislation to ban TikTok on federal devices MORE (Ariz.) and Joni ErnstJoni Kay ErnstWill the next coronavirus relief package leave essential workers behind? Hillicon Valley: Facebook bans ads from pro-Trump PAC | Uber reports big drop in revenue | US offers M reward for election interference info Senate passes legislation to ban TikTok on federal devices MORE (Iowa), along with Sen. Mike RoundsMarion (Mike) Michael RoundsOn The Money: Pessimism grows as coronavirus talks go down to the wire | Jobs report poised to light fire under COVID-19 talks | Tax preparers warn unemployment recipients could owe IRS Pessimism grows as coronavirus talks go down to the wire Trump goes viral after mispronouncing Yosemite MORE (S.D.).

Other Republicans such as Sen. Mitt RomneyWillard (Mitt) Mitt RomneyFrom a Republican donor to Senate GOP: Remove marriage penalty or risk alienating voters Tennessee primary battle turns nasty for Republicans NRCC poll finds McBath ahead of Handel in Georgia MORE (Utah) also support changing base names. 

“I would support changing the names of bases that were named in honor of Confederate generals. Those individuals fought against the United States of American and we should instead be honoring people who fought for the United States of America,” he told reporters Wednesday. 

Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) on Tuesday dared Trump to give Democrats a big gift before the election.

“I dare President Trump to veto the bill over Confederate base naming. It’s in the bill, it has bipartisan support, it will stay in the bill,” he said.

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Democrats say that Trump would look completely out of step with changing sentiments on race if he vetoed the defense bill, especially after Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves (R) signed legislation this week to take down the Mississippi state flag, which has the Confederate battle flag embedded within it.  

“I just think it would be a mistake. I think he’s out of sync with the opinion all across the country,” said Sen. Jack ReedJohn (Jack) Francis ReedSenate Democrats demand answers on migrant child trafficking during pandemic Overnight Defense: Embattled Pentagon policy nominee withdraws, gets appointment to deputy policy job | Marines, sailor killed in California training accident identified | Governors call for extension of funding for Guard's coronavirus response Controversial Trump nominee placed in senior role after nomination hearing canceled MORE (R.I.), the ranking Democrat on the Senate Armed Services Committee. He noted that “the state of Mississippi is moving to change its flag” and NASCAR has banned the Confederate battle flag at races.

Other Republicans agree with McConnell that vetoing the massive defense bill would be a mistake.

“I plan on voting for the bill if that provision is in there or if it’s modified,” said Sen. Shelley Moore CapitoShelley Wellons Moore CapitoAnalysis finds record high number of woman versus woman congressional races Former VA staffer charged with giving seven patients fatal insulin doses Senate GOP hedges on attending Trump's convention amid coronavirus uptick MORE (R-W.Va.). “I would hope the president wouldn’t veto it."

“It’s a bipartisan effort to arm our military and arm our defenses,” she said.

Sen. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioThe Hill's Campaign Report: US officials say Russia, China are looking to sow discord in election US intelligence says Russia seeking to 'denigrate' Biden From a Republican donor to Senate GOP: Remove marriage penalty or risk alienating voters MORE (R-Fla.) said he has some concerns with the details of the Warren provision because it “mandates an outcome” but told reporters that he "wouldn’t vote against the bill because of that provision.”

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“Ultimately, I don’t think the name of a facility should be something that’s divisive or offensive to people especially if there are better alternatives to it,” he said. “But it has to be through a process, a considered process.”

The Warren amendment, which was adopted during a closed-door committee markup, would require military bases and other property commemorating the Confederate States of America to be renamed after an implementing commission reviews the issue for three years.

“I personally don’t have any problem with renaming bases. We have plenty of American military heroes that we can rename these things after,” Rubio said.

“The NDAA is so important and [has] so many important elements in it that I don’t believe that alone should be enough reason to either vote against it or veto it,” he added.

Sen. Ron JohnsonRonald (Ron) Harold JohnsonDemocrats try to force Trump to boost medical supplies production GOP chairmen hit back at accusation they are spreading disinformation with Biden probe Unemployment debate sparks GOP divisions MORE (R-Wis.) said “hopefully we can get by that.”

“We obviously need to pass NDAA. It needs to be signed into law,” he added.