USA

Republicans fear backlash over Trump's threatened veto on Confederate names

Senate Republicans fear President TrumpDonald John TrumpHouse panel approves 0.5B defense policy bill House panel votes against curtailing Insurrection Act powers after heated debate House panel votes to constrain Afghan drawdown, ask for assessment on 'incentives' to attack US troops MORE is putting them into a political no-win situation by threatening to veto a popular defense policy bill over bipartisan language to rename military bases named after Confederate generals.

GOP lawmakers are trying to wave the president off his veto threat and may end up delaying the bill to avoid a political disaster before Election Day.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellFormer HUD Secretary: Congress 'should invest 0B in direct rental assistance' OVERNIGHT ENERGY: House approves .5T green infrastructure plan | Rubio looks to defense bill to block offshore drilling, but some fear it creates a loophole | DC-area lawmakers push for analysis before federal agencies can be relocated House approves .5T green infrastructure plan MORE (R-Ky.) on Wednesday urged Trump not to veto the $740.5 billion bill over a provision sponsored by Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenHouse Armed Services votes to make Pentagon rename Confederate-named bases in a year Overnight Defense: House panel votes to ban Confederate flag on all Pentagon property | DOD report says Russia working to speed US withdrawal from Afghanistan | 'Gang of Eight' to get briefing on bounties Thursday Liberal veterans group urges Biden to name Duckworth VP MORE (D-Mass.) mandating the secretary of Defense rename military installations named after Confederate generals.

“I would hope the president really wouldn't veto the bill over this issue,” McConnell told Fox News. “I hope the president will reconsider vetoing the entire defense bill, which includes pay raises for our troops, over a provision in there that could lead to changing the names.”

With Trump and several Senate GOP incumbents down in the polls to Democratic opponents, Republican lawmakers are not looking forward to a racially-charged debate in Congress over preserving the memories of Confederate generals.

“We are now in an era of live grenades lying around. Nobody wants to jump on them,” said Sen. Pat RobertsCharles (Pat) Patrick RobertsCook Political Report shifts Montana Senate race to 'toss up' McConnell plans to stay on as Senate GOP leader even if he loses majority When will Americans — all Americans — declare that enough is enough? MORE (R-Kan.).

A messy partisan fight over bases named after Confederate generals could also further drive away swing suburban voters, who are already dropping away from Trump according to recent polls.

Trump on Sunday tweeted and then deleted a video of a support at a retirement community in Florida chanting “white power,” further exacerbating the fears of GOP lawmakers that his style is too divisive.

If Trump doesn’t relent on the threatened veto, it’s likely Republicans will not let the defense policy bill go to the president’s desk before the Nov. 3 general election.

“It will probably be November by the time it would be coming to his desk anyway. A lot can happen between now and then,” Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Jim InhofeJames (Jim) Mountain InhofeSenate rejects Paul proposal on withdrawing troops from Afghanistan Liberal veterans group urges Biden to name Duckworth VP McConnell: Trump shouldn't veto defense bill over renaming Confederate bases MORE (R-Okla.) told reporters Wednesday. He said “of course it would” be a mistake to veto the defense bill, and expressed hope the base-naming provision could somehow be removed from the bill, asserting “there’s lots of pathways” to do so. 

Sen. Josh HawleyJoshua (Josh) David HawleyMcConnell: Trump shouldn't veto defense bill over renaming Confederate bases Trump warns of defense bill veto over military base renaming amendment House chairman predicts approval for 'very strong' amendment to change Confederate-named bases MORE (R-Mo.), a rising conservative star, for example, has an amendment to remove the mandate on the Defense secretary to change the base names.

But other Republicans, including Senate GOP Whip John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneMcConnell: Trump shouldn't veto defense bill over renaming Confederate bases Senate Republicans defend Trump's response on Russian bounties GOP skeptical of polling on Trump MORE (R-S.D.), warn it will be extremely difficult to remove the base-naming language. Doing so on the Senate floor would require 60 votes, and the entire Democratic conference and several Republicans support the provision.

The prospects of taking it out in a Senate-House conference negotiation is also unlikely because the House is expected to add similar, if not stronger, language to its version of the bill. 

That means the surest way to avoid a veto before Election Day is to keep the bill off Trump’s desk until after Nov. 3 — unless the president changes his mind. 

Republicans view the defense bill, formally known as the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), as must-pass legislation. It has been passed annually for 59 consecutive years and is seen as a crucial benchmark of governance.

Republicans are leery about a battle with Democrats over preserving the legacies of Confederate generals at a time when the Black Lives Matter movement and social justice are dominating the national political conversation.

Three Republicans on the Armed Services Committee supported changing the names of military bases during the panel's voice vote last month. The trio included two Republicans in tough re-election races, Sens. Martha McSallyMartha Elizabeth McSallyPolitical establishment takes a hit as chaos reigns supreme Democrats optimistic about chances of winning Senate Where things stand in 13 battleground states MORE (Ariz.), Joni ErnstJoni Kay ErnstSenate Republicans defend Trump's response on Russian bounties Overnight Defense: Democrats blast Trump handling of Russian bounty intel | Pentagon leaders set for House hearing July 9 | Trump moves forward with plan for Germany drawdown GOP senator calls reporting on Russia bounties 'absolutely inaccurate' after White House briefing MORE (Iowa), along with Sen. Mike RoundsMarion (Mike) Michael RoundsRepublican rift opens up over qualified immunity for police GOP divided in fight over renaming bases Cotton emerges as key figure in base renaming fight MORE (S.D.).

Other Republicans such as Sen. Mitt RomneyWillard (Mitt) Mitt RomneyOvernight Defense: Lawmakers demand answers on reported Russian bounties for US troops deaths in Afghanistan | Defense bill amendments target Germany withdrawal, Pentagon program giving weapons to police Senators aim to limit Trump's ability to remove troops from Germany Voters must strongly reject the president's abuses by voting him out this November MORE (R-Utah) also support changing base names. 

“I would support changing the names of bases that were named in honor of Confederate generals. Those individuals fought against the United States of American and we should instead be honoring people who fought for the United States of America,” he told reporters Wednesday. 

Senate Democratic Leader Chuck SchumerChuck SchumerOvernight Defense: House panel votes to ban Confederate flag on all Pentagon property | DOD report says Russia working to speed US withdrawal from Afghanistan | 'Gang of Eight' to get briefing on bounties Thursday Top intelligence officials to brief Gang of Eight on Thursday Over 1700 veterans ask Senate to pass statehood bill MORE (D-N.Y.) on Tuesday dared Trump to give Democrats a big gift before the election.

“I dare President Trump to veto the bill over confederate base naming. It’s in the bill, it has bipartisan support, it will stay in the bill,” he said.

Democrats say that Trump would look completely out of step with changing sentiments on race if he vetoed the defense bill, especially after Mississippi Gov Tate Reeves (R) signed legislation this week to take down the Mississippi state flag, which has the Confederate battle flag embedded within it.  

“I just think it would be a mistake. I think he’s out of sync with the opinion all across the country,” said Sen. Jack ReedJohn (Jack) Francis ReedSenate Dems request briefing on Russian bounty wire transfers Overnight Defense: Democrats blast Trump handling of Russian bounty intel | Pentagon leaders set for House hearing July 9 | Trump moves forward with plan for Germany drawdown Top Senate Democrats request Esper, Pompeo testify over Russian bounties reports MORE (R.I.), the ranking Democrat on the Armed Services Committee. He noted that “the state of Mississippi is moving to change its flag” and NASCAR has banned the Confederate battle flag at races.

Other Republicans agree with McConnell that vetoing the massive defense bill would be a mistake.

“I plan on voting for the bill if that provision is in there or if it’s modified,” said Sen. Shelley Moore CapitoShelley Wellons Moore CapitoMcConnell makes strong call for masks, saying there should be no stigma Ernst sinks vote on Trump EPA nominee GOP: Trump needs a new plan MORE (R-W.Va.). “I would hope the president wouldn’t veto it.

“It’s a bipartisan effort to arm our military and arm our defenses,” she said.

Sen. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioJennifer Aniston urges fans to 'wear a damn mask:' 'It really shouldn't be a debate' OVERNIGHT ENERGY: House approves .5T green infrastructure plan | Rubio looks to defense bill to block offshore drilling, but some fear it creates a loophole | DC-area lawmakers push for analysis before federal agencies can be relocated The Hill's Coronavirus Report: Stagwell President Mark Penn says Trump is losing on fighting the virus; Fauci says U.S. 'going in the wrong direction' in fight against virus MORE (R-Fla.) said he has some concerns with the details of the Warren provision because it “mandates an outcome,” but told reporters that “I wouldn’t vote against the bill because of that provision.”

“Ultimately, I don’t think the name of a facility should be something that’s divisive or offensive to people especially if there are better alternatives to it,” he said. “But it has to be through a process, a considered process.”

The Warren amendment, which was adopted during a closed-door committee markup, would require military bases and other property commemorating the Confederate States of America to be renamed after an implementing commission reviews the issue for three years.

“I personally don’t have any problem with renaming bases. We have plenty of American military heroes that we can rename these things after,” Rubio said.

“The NDAA is so important and [has] so many important elements in it that I don’t believe that alone should be enough reason to either vote against it or veto it,” he added.

Sen. Ron JohnsonRonald (Ron) Harold JohnsonGOP senators debate replacing Columbus Day with Juneteenth as a federal holiday Senate Republicans defend Trump's response on Russian bounties Postal Service boosted by increased use during pandemic: report MORE (R-Wis.) said “hopefully we can get by that.”

“We obviously need to pass NDAA. It needs to be signed into law,” he added. 

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