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Defense bill in danger over Confederate-named military bases — today

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WASHINGTON — An annu­al defense pol­i­cy mea­sure that has passed Con­gress every year since the Kennedy admin­is­tra­tion is in dan­ger of cra­ter­ing next month over a move by Democ­rats to rename mil­i­tary bases, such as Fort Ben­ning, that are named after Con­fed­er­ate offi­cers.

Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump oppos­es renam­ing bases like Fort Hood and has threat­ened to veto the pop­u­lar mea­sure over the pro­vi­sion, which was added to both the House and Sen­ate ver­sions of the so-called defense autho­riza­tion bill this sum­mer.

Repub­li­cans are vow­ing they will not send the broad­er bill to Trump if it includes lan­guage requir­ing bases named after Con­fed­er­ate offi­cers to be renamed. Trump used the debate this sum­mer to appeal to South­ern vot­ers nos­tal­gic about the Con­fed­er­a­cy, and those appeals remain rel­e­vant now due to two Sen­ate runoff elec­tions in Geor­gia that will deter­mine con­trol of the cham­ber dur­ing the first two years of Pres­i­dent-elect Joe Biden’s tenure.

“I am con­cerned that there is at least the poten­tial that polit­i­cal con­cerns, espe­cial­ly with the Geor­gia runoffs, are going to play a big­ger role,” said House Armed Ser­vices Com­mit­tee Repub­li­can Mac Thorn­ber­ry of Texas. “I have no doubt that we can reach an agree­ment. The ques­tion is whether the pol­i­tics above us will allow us to.”

Sen­ate Armed Ser­vices Com­mit­tee Chair­man James Inhofe, R‑Okla., is strong­ly back­ing Trump, aides involved in the talks say. But Democ­rats, who won GOP sup­port in both the House and Sen­ate to force the renam­ing of the bases, vow they will not back down. Typ­i­cal­ly, when both House and Sen­ate ver­sions of leg­is­la­tion con­tain com­pa­ra­ble pro­vi­sions, the default posi­tion is to leave the lan­guage in the final prod­uct. The dif­fer­ences between the House and Sen­ate pro­vi­sions are rel­a­tive­ly mod­est.

“It’s Sen­ate lan­guage that we want to agree to,” said House Armed Ser­vices Com­mit­tee Chair­man Adam Smith, D‑Wash. “So there shouldn’t be con­tro­ver­sy here.” He called Trump “a lit­tle bit errat­ic at the moment.”

House Speak­er Nan­cy Pelosi, D‑Calif., says the names must be changed.

“It is imper­a­tive that the con­fer­ence report include pro­vi­sions that secure this essen­tial pri­or­i­ty,” said Pelosi. “Our bases should reflect our high­est ideals as Amer­i­cans.”

The bill has to pass next month to avoid break­ing a 59-year streak of enact­ing the annu­al mea­sure, which sets pol­i­cy across the Pen­ta­gon and puts law­mak­ers on record behind a 3% auto­mat­ic pay raise start­ing Jan. 1, among its oth­er pro­vi­sions.

“Look, the defense bill is real­ly impor­tant,” Smith said, express­ing hope that Repub­li­cans would relent.

White House chief of staff Mark Mead­ows has even float­ed the idea of a trade­off in which Trump would sign the leg­is­la­tion con­tain­ing the Demo­c­ra­t­ic lan­guage in exchange for repeal­ing so-called Sec­tion 230, a legal shield for social media out­lets like Face­book that pro­tects web­sites from lia­bil­i­ty for con­tent post­ed on their sites. The New York Times first report­ed Mead­ows’ attempt at deal mak­ing, which was con­firmed by a Demo­c­ra­t­ic aide who request­ed anonymi­ty because the nego­ti­a­tions are occur­ring behind closed doors.

Both the House and Sen­ate defense mea­sures passed by veto-proof mar­gins but GOP lead­ers want to avoid the chances of a veto com­ing to pass. Either way, the issue seems to be a los­er for Georgia’s Repub­li­can sen­a­tors, David Per­due and Kel­ly Loef­fler. Break­ing with Trump to over­ride the veto could mean a loss in sup­port among core GOP vot­ers, while stand­ing in favor of keep­ing the base names could drain sup­port from inde­pen­dents.

This sto­ry first moved Novem­ber 19, 2020. It was updat­ed Novem­ber 20, 2020.. The Asso­ci­at­ed Press erro­neous­ly report­ed that fail­ure to pass the leg­is­la­tion could hold up a pay raise for the mil­i­tary. The 3 per­cent year­ly pay raise for the mil­i­tary is auto­mat­ic.

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