Last July, at the height of the race riots, the House and Senate passed a bill by large majorities to rename U.S. military bases currently named after Confederate personalities. The bill was part of the gigantic National Defense Authorization Act and Donald Trump refused to sign off on the entire bill unless the base renaming was taken out of the measure.
Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman James Inhofe (R-Okla.) also wants the amendment removed. Neither he nor the president is likely to get what they want.
The House version of the legislation gives the Pentagon a deadline of one year to make the changes. The Senate gives the military three years. Senate Democrats have finally relented and agreed to the three-year timeline and the House will apparently go along with it.
Since Trump is unlikely to sign the bill, it will be one of the first items on Joe Biden’s desk in January.
The timeline is slower than the one-year deadline the House approved, but House Democrats adopting it as their negotiating stance puts Senate Republicans in the position of arguing against something they already approved.
“This is a simple provision that was in the Senate language,” Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.) told reporters at the Capitol on Friday. “What we are insisting — this is the irony — the House is insisting that the conference report accept the Senate language.”
Republicans may be regretting that July vote. The pressure to pass something is definitely off as Black Lives Matter and other activists aren’t in the streets in any great numbers any more. The entire controversy over Confederate base names and statues isn’t even on the political radar.
Giving in to the demands of rioters is never a good idea and Republicans should be kicking themselves for their political cowardice.
Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman James Inhofe (R-Okla.) has vowed to remove the requirement. But it is highly unusual for something that’s in both bills to be removed from the final version, and Inhofe has not explained how he expects to overcome bipartisan support for changing the names.
“We’re getting in the way of a lot of very important stuff over something that we all ought to support,” Smith said of delaying the Defense bill over the renaming.
Rep. Smith said that Congress “shouldn’t be naming military bases after people who rose up in armed rebellion against the United States.” Of course, it’s not because they committed the legal definition of treason that the bases are named after them. The bases are named after those who stood up, in true American fashion, for what they believed — even though those beliefs were morally repugnant. It is for that reason we honor them, not for what they believed about slavery.
That’s a nuanced and sophisticated argument. But activists don’t do “nuance” and they don’t do “sophisticated.” So the base names have to be changed.