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Capitol Hill grapples with Confederate statues amid protests
03:17 - Source: CNN
CNN  — 

Senate Republicans have a simple message after President Donald Trump dashed off a late-night tweet Tuesday threatening to veto their must-pass defense policy bill over the renaming of bases named for Confederate leaders: Give it some time.

Republicans responded to Trump’s tweet on Wednesday by noting that the bill, the National Defense Authorization Act, is a long way from the President’s desk – arguing they had ample opportunity to address an amendment that calls for the removal of the names of Confederate leaders from all military assets within three years.

“We are going to do some more work on that,” said Sen. John Cornyn, a Texas Republican and member of Senate GOP leadership. “We have a long way to go to get the NDAA done in the first place, and there is a conference committee, so there are many places along the way where we can modify that and hopefully in a way that the President will agree to.”

The amendment to rename military installations was added to the annual defense policy bill by Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts when the Senate Armed Services Committee approved the legislation last month.

Trump has responded to the push, which garnered some support inside the Pentagon, by declaring his steadfast opposition and threatening to veto legislation that would rename the military installations.

“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 on Tuesday evening.

Senate Republicans urged the President not to veto the massive defense bill – which has passed for 59 straight years, authorizes more than $700 billion in military funding and includes a pay raise for troops – but also said it will be months before the bill hits his desk.

“The President is serious. He is dead serious on this thing,” said Senate Armed Services Chairman Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma, a Republican who opposes Warren’s amendment. “Of course, he wouldn’t veto something until it reaches his desk. That probably is going to be sometime around November, so we have until now and November to make sure we overcome the reason for his veto.”

The Senate debate comes amid nationwide protests over the death of George Floyd, a Black man killed while in Minneapolis police custody.

There have been a number of steps taken in recent weeks to address racial injustice in the wake of the protests. House Democrats passed a sweeping police reform package, including banning the use of chokeholds, while Senate Republicans crafted their own police reform plan. In Mississippi, the governor signed a bill this week to retire the last state flag in the US with the Confederate symbol.

The issue of bases named after Confederate leaders, and Trump’s staunch resistance, has put Republicans in an awkward spot, dividing Senate Republicans who are facing reelection fights in 2020. In the Armed Services Committee, Sen. Joni Ernst of Iowa backed the measure, while Sen. Thom Tillis of North Carolina opposed it.

Democrats have criticized Trump’s position, arguing that it’s past time to address the issue.

“I think he’s out of sync with the opinion all across the country,” said Sen. Jack Reed of Rhode Island, the top Democrat on the Armed Services Committee. “When the state of Mississippi is moving to change its flag, when NASCAR has made changes, I don’t think he represents the majority of opinion.”

The Senate is debating the defense authorization bill on the floor this week and will finish working on it when senators return to Washington later this month. The chamber could vote on amendments that would modify the provision renaming bases named for Confederate leaders, such as the proposal by Sen. Josh Hawley, a Missouri Republican, blocking Warren’s provision and appointing a commission to study the issue and work with local communities.

“I hope we’ll get a vote on it. I think that would take care of the issues that the President seems to have,” Hawley told reporters Wednesday.

The House Armed Services Committee is debating its version of the defense authorization bill on Wednesday, where the Democratic-controlled panel is likely to also take up the issue of bases named after Confederate leaders.

The issue is ultimately likely to be decided during House-Senate conference negotiations that take place after both chambers have passed versions of the legislation.

Republicans said Wednesday they were hopeful that if the provision remained in the bill, Trump ultimately wouldn’t veto it, given how many key measures for the military it contains.

“There are bigger issues than that in the NDAA,” said Sen. Roy Blunt, a Missouri Republican, who added that he supported renaming the installations.

Sen. Marco Rubio, a Florida Republican, said he supported debating changing the name of any facility “so long as it is done by a process.”

“I don’t think the name of a facility should be something that is offensive or divisive, especially if there are better alternatives to it,” Rubio said.

Asked about Warren’s amendment, Rubio said: “I wouldn’t vote against the bill because of that provision.”