GOP-led group to withdraw Confederate names from military assets amid Trump opposition

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“There is always a story we do not want to forget,” said Senator Mike Rounds, a Republican from South Dakota who sits on the Senate Committee on Armed Services, questioned about the plan, which he supports. “In this regard, I agree with the President that we do not want to forget our history. … But at the same time, that does not mean that we must continue on these bases with the names of the people who fought our country. ”

The amendment comes at a precarious time for Trump, who has struggled to gain support within the black community and has seen his poll count drop sharply amid his handling of the coronavirus pandemic and deep racial disturbances caused by the death of George Floyd, an unarmed black man killed in police custody in Minneapolis.

The amendment put GOP leaders in an awkward position – caught between their efforts to woo black voters in a high-stakes election year and a president who demanded that Republicans pull the line and fight the amendment.

Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell refused to say he would support the plan on Thursday, telling CNN, “It will be up to the committee to decide. “

The amendment has been added to the Annual Defense Authorization Bill, and may still be removed as it progresses through the legislative process. If Trump were to veto such a bill, it would be a big risk since the popular defense measure defines Pentagon policy.

When asked whether withdrawing the Confederate amendment would be politically problematic from a public relations perspective, the majority of the Senate whip, John Thune, admitted on Thursday that it would be difficult.

“Well, I mean if it’s in the basic bill coming out of the committee then, yes,” the South Dakota Republican told reporters. “Obviously, it’s a heavy task if we take something out of the balance sheet … so we’ll see where this discussion goes. Like I said, I saw what the president had said. I was not aware of that in There. ”

What adds even more complication to Republicans is the fact that the Defense Clearance Bill has been approved by Congress every year for the past 59 years – so it will undoubtedly put pressure on legislators to resolve the sticking point in order to pass the orientation bill for the 60th consecutive year.

In the past two days, Trump has expressed opposition to such an effort, citing the American legacy, while adding on Twitter Thursday: “Hopefully our great Republican senators will not fall into the trap. ”

Some Republican senators agreed with Trump, including Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri, who opposed the Warren plan.

“I just don’t think that Congress demanding that these names be renamed and trying to erase that part of our history is one way to manage that history,” said Hawley. “I don’t think you turn your back on the way you face it, face it, and then continue.”

Hawley added, “I heard a lot of soldiers who went through these bases and they said that these bases mean something to me. I have my own story with these, please don’t rename them. ”

Arkansas senator Tom Cotton also opposed the amendment, an assistant said that the GOP senator had vainly sought to change the plan to create an exception for memorials in military cemeteries Confederate soldiers.

But it was clear that the amendment had put some Republicans in an awkward position.

Senator Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee, who also sits on the Armed Services Committee, would not say whether she supported the amendment in committee. “This is an issue we are examining,” she said.

Senator Deb Fischer of Nebraska did not want to discuss his views on the issue, while Senator Roger Wicker of Mississippi said, “I think the idea of ​​the commission has merit. ”

Wicker did not respond if he had voted in favor of it in committee, but the amendment would create an independent committee to examine and develop a detailed plan for the removal of names.

Other Republican senators did not want to speak publicly on the issue. GOP Senator John Kennedy of Louisiana, whose home state has military facilities with Confederate names, responded to questions on the amendment with: “I have nothing for you on this. ”

And the only black Republican in the Senate, Tim Scott, told CNN that he had “not given much thought” when asked if he supported removing the names of Confederate leaders from military bases. Scott added that he was “focusing on police reform.”

Pressed further if he is willing to keep the Confederate names, Scott said he had to “spend some time thinking about the issue first.”

Army facilities named after Confederate leaders include Fort Bragg in North Carolina, Fort Hood in Texas and Fort A.P. Hill in Virginia. Military bases across the country continued to bear the names of Confederate military commanders, even in the midst of intense outside pressure to rename them.

CNN reported earlier this week that U.S. Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy and Defense Secretary Mark Esper are ready to hold a “bipartisan conversation” about the renaming of a dozen major bases and facilities bearing the names of Confederate military commanders, according to an Army Official.

Peaceful protests calling for justice and addressing racial inequality dominated the United States following the death of Floyd at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer, prompting many to reconsider the status quo, including the widespread use of the names and symbols of Confederate military leaders.

However, some high-level Republicans have expressed resistance to any change.

Senate Armed Services President Jim Inhofe, a Republican from Oklahoma, told reporters during a conference call Thursday that he had differences with Democrats on the issue and wanted “communities local, cities, towns, states, participate in they don’t want to do this “and that the inclusion of the amendment was” the first step “.

“We have a long way to go on this issue,” said Inhofe.

The Democrat on the committee, Senator Jack Reed from Rhode Island, who was on the same conference call as Inhofe, agreed that the amendment was a “first step.”

“I think what we saw yesterday was a very thoughtful process and a bipartisan process to take a very complicated and difficult issue and set up a commission that will have a three-year operating period,” said Reed. “This will carefully consider all aspects of this issue, and will also be able to engage local communities who have an interest in the names of these facilities and to conclude after this process a way to rename these facilities in such a way that we do we do our best to maintain, I think, our loyalty to the Constitution and the principles that govern the country. ”

This story was updated with additional developments on Thursday.

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