WASHINGTON — The Senate is poised to challenge President Donald Trump this week with legislation requiring the military to rename bases bearing the names of Confederate generals, a proposal that is shaping up to be one of the most contentious items in this year’s annual defense bill.
In the Senate, the main issue appears to be timing. The bill that emerged from the Republican-led Senate Armed Services Committee included a provision giving the Pentagon three years to come up with new names.
But an amendment filed by Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., and 35 other Senate Democrats last week would speed up that process, requiring the name changes within a year.
Although there is still vocal opposition to removing the Confederate names at all — Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., has proposed an amendment to strip the renaming requirement entirely — Republican support for the change suggests it will survive any challenges during this week’s floor debate.
But with Trump pledging that he will “not even consider the renaming” of bases, it is possible that the provision could eventually pitch Congress into a showdown with the president over the entire defense bill.
The push to rename the 10 major bases named after Confederate generals — and remove other Confederate likenesses, symbols and paraphernalia from all defense facilities — has gained momentum as nationwide demonstrations against racial injustice and police brutality enter their second month.
Virginia installations named after Confederates include Fort Lee and Fort A.P. Hill.
The annual defense bill is one of the few “must pass” measures Congress considers every year and, if this year’s proposed $740 billion behemoth passes, it would be the 60th consecutive year that lawmakers have approved the measure.
Because of its special status, however, the legislation frequently becomes a focal point for political debates.
In the Senate, Armed Services Committee Chairman James Inhofe, R-Okla., has indicated he wants a final vote on that chamber’s bill before lawmakers leave Capitol Hill for the two weeks after July 4.
But in the House, the defense bill process has a long way to go. The Democratic-led House Armed Services Committee just published its proposed measure last week, and it was silent on the matter of renaming bases.
But it is likely to come up when the panel reviews the bill on Wednesday, along with any amendments to it.
Last year, the House included a measure in its version of the defense bill prohibiting Pentagon leaders from naming any Defense Department assets after any member of the Confederacy or site of a Confederate battle victory.
The president on Monday criticized Princeton University for removing Woodrow Wilson’s name from its school of public and international affairs and called a push to remove John Wayne’s name from a California airport “incredible stupidity.”
Princeton’s board of trustees voted last week to remove the Virginia-born Wilson’s name, saying the late president’s segregationist policies a century ago make him an “especially inappropriate namesake” for a public policy school.
Meanwhile, Orange County, Calif., Democrats passed a resolution last week condemning film legend John Wayne’s “racist and bigoted statements” made decades ago and called on county supervisors to remove his name and statue from the international airport in the county that serves the greater Los Angeles area.