Senate passes bill with plan to change Confederate-named bases over Trump veto threat
The Senate on Thursday passed a mammoth defense policy bill that sparked a veto threat from President Trump over its inclusion of a plan to rename bases named after Confederate figures.
The Senate voted 86-14 on the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). That’s above the two-thirds majority it would take to override a potential veto, though senators could flip their votes on a potential override.
The Senate’s vote comes days after the House passed its version of the annual NDAA. The two chambers will now have to reconcile their bills and craft a final deal, but with both versions containing plans to rename the bases it will likely be difficult to keep the issue out of a final agreement.
The Senate’s bill includes broad outlines for Pentagon policy initiatives and allocates a total of $740.5 billion, including $636.4 billion for the Pentagon’s base budget, $25.9 billion for national security programs within the Department of Energy and $69 billion for the Overseas Contingency Operations account, a war fund that isn’t subject to budget caps.
But the language over renaming Confederate-named bases quickly emerged as a flash point after protests over racial injustice put a national focus on lingering tributes to the Confederacy, including statues and military installations.
The Senate’s bill would form a commission to come up with a plan for renaming the bases. The Defense secretary would then “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” within three years of the bill being enacted.
The language was agreed on in the Senate Armed Services Committee by a voice vote, but it sparked the threat of a veto from Trump.
“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 earlier this month.
Senate Republicans have urged Trump to back down from his veto threat, arguing that it’s time for the country to rethink who it chooses to memorialize.
“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,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) told Fox News shortly after Trump’s veto threat.
Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) predicted earlier this month that Republicans would “probably” override a veto of the bill, which would be a first for the Trump administration.
Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) filed an amendment to change the language by removing the mandate 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. The amendment did not get a vote.
The fight over Confederate-named bases wasn’t the only hot button topic brought up during the Senate’s debate.
Senators rejected broad limits on what weapons the military could transfer to police departments, an issue that reemerged when videos of police using such equipment in response to protests sparked criticism.
Instead the Senate agreed to include a more limited ban on the transfer of bayonets, grenades, weaponized tracked combat vehicles and weaponized drones. The amendment, from Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), also requires law enforcement to be trained in de-escalation and citizens’ constitutional rights.
Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) had offered a bipartisan amendment to restrict Trump’s ability to reduce U.S. military presence in Germany. He voted against ending debate on the Senate bill, but ultimately voted for the bill on final passage, because he didn’t get a vote on his proposal.
“By all appearance, the withdrawal of 10,000 troops from Germany is a very bad idea. First of all, it’s a slap in the face at a key ally, a friend, and a great country,” Romney said during a Senate floor speech.
Democrats had also wanted to use the bill respond to recent protests in the wake of George Floyd’s death, including requiring federal law enforcement uniforms to identify an individual and their agency, limit their activities to federal property and the immediate surrounding area unless a governor or mayor requests more assistance and to publicly disclose the number of personnel deployed and what activities they are carrying out.
But that amendment did not get a vote.
“It would be the right thing for us to debate my simple amendment,” said Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) on Thursday. “We should debate it. If people disagree with it they should stand up and explain why. ….You know how rare it is for senators to come down and actually have a dialogue and debate?”