The Senate Armed Services Committee has approved a proposal to strip Confederate names from military bases and other Defense Department facilities within the next three years, setting up a possible clash with President Donald Trump on the issue.
While a number of Republicans, including committee Chairman Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma, expressed some concerns about the way the changes would be implemented, the proposal passed by voice vote Wednesday with only a handful of dissenters.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., offered the proposal as an amendment to the massive National Defense Authorization Act, which authorizes funds and sets policies for the military every year; the broader bill was approved by the committee in a 25-2 vote. If the language survives the floor vote and is also included in the House version of the package, the president would have to veto the entire bill in order to prevent the names from changing.
Presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden said Friday that he backed the proposal and would put it into effect if elected.
"I fully support Senator Warren’s bipartisan effort to form a commission to rename Defense Department facilities named after Confederate leaders in the next three years, and look forward to implementing the commission’s work as president," he said in a statement.
But Trump said Wednesday that he would “not even consider” renaming Army bases that honor Confederate leaders, despite a nationwide reckoning over racial discrimination in the aftermath of the killing of George Floyd. The Army has 10 military posts named after Confederate military officers, including Fort Bragg in North Carolina, Fort Benning in Georgia and Fort Hood in Texas.
The president tweeted Thursday that Republican senators hopefully wouldn't "fall for" supporting Warren's proposal, first reported by Roll Call.
The proposal would set up a commission to make recommendations on the name changes to bases and other military assets, which would be completed within three years, getting input from states and local governments where the bases are. And there are exceptions, including headstones at Arlington National Cemetery and any assets named for Confederates who later served in wars as part of the U.S. Army after the Civil War.
Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., told reporters he voted against the amendment. Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., also voted no. A source familiar with his decision said Cotton wanted an exception for memorials clearly dedicated to Confederate war dead, and no exception was made.
But Sen. Mike Rounds, R-S.D., said that while he agreed that U.S. history should not be forgotten, the bases shouldn't be named for those "who fought against our country."
"And so I think this is a step in the right direction, this was the right time for it, and I think it sends the right message," Rounds said.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said at her weekly news conference Thursday that the base names, as well as Confederate statues in the Capitol, "have to go."
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., said at his own news conference later Thursday that he is "not opposed" to renaming bases, but said he wanted to wait to see how the defense authorization bill shaped up.
Secretary of the Army Ryan McCarthy had said in a statement Wednesday that he was “open to having a bipartisan conversation regarding the renaming of Army bases," adding that "no decision has been made at this time.”
The Pentagon had also said that the secretary of Defense and the secretary of the Army were “open to a bipartisan discussion on the topic.”