Pentagon appoints commissioners to scrub Confederate base names

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Acting Defense Secretary Christopher Miller named four members Friday to serve on the congressionally mandated commission tasked with planning how to rename Confederate-named military bases.

In a news release, the Pentagon said Miller appointed Sean McLean, a White House associate director; Joshua Whitehouse, the White House liaison to the Defense Department who has been involved in some of the post-election purges at the Pentagon; Ann Johnston, acting assistant secretary of Defense for legislative affairs; and Earl Matthews, an Army colonel who previously served as principal deputy general counsel for the Army and on Trump’s National Security Council.

The creation of the commission was one of the reasons President Trump vetoed this year’s National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).

Trump argued the bill’s requirement to strip Confederate names from military bases amounted to a politically-motivated attempt “to wash away history.” But lawmakers in both parties said it was far past time to remove names honoring traitors who fought to preserve slavery, not least because it affects morale of Black service members.

Congress delivered Trump the first and likely only veto override of his presidency with the NDAA when the Senate voted on New Year’s Day to override him, following a House override vote earlier that week.

The Pentagon had 45 days to name its members of the commission after the bill became law, a timeline that would have left the choices up to the Biden administration if all the time was taken.

President-elect Joe Biden supports removing Confederate names from military bases. While the NDAA sets up a process to do so, Biden could still use executive authority to remove the names immediately if he wants.

The commission created by the NDAA is tasked with planning how to change “names, symbols, displays, monuments and paraphernalia to assets of the Department of Defense that commemorate the Confederate States of America or any person who served voluntarily with the Confederate States of America.” The Pentagon is required to carry out the plan within three years.

While the Army’s 10 bases named after Confederate leaders have gotten the most public attention, the bill requires renaming any “base, installation, street, building, facility, aircraft, ship, plane, weapon, equipment or any other property owned or controlled by the Department of Defense.”

For example, the USS Chancellorsville guided-missile cruiser is named for a Confederate victory in the Civil War.

In addition to the four commission members named by Miller, the chairmen and ranking members of both the House and Senate Armed Services committees will each choose one member of the commission, for a total of eight members.

The commission must hold its first meeting 60 days after the bill became law and must brief the Armed Services committees on its progress no later than Oct. 1.

By Oct. 1, 2022, the commission must present a report that includes a list of assets to be removed or renamed, costs associated with the removal or renaming of assets, criteria and requirements used to nominate and rename assets, and methods of collecting and incorporating local sensitivities associated with the removal or renaming of assets.

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