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Democrats’ new push: Cleanse Confederacy from military in a year

Sen. Elizabeth Warren and 35 fellow Democrats plan to unveil legislation Wednesday; exception would be made for grave markers

Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., shown here with Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., wants to accelerate the proposed process by which certain bases would be renamed.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., shown here with Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., wants to accelerate the proposed process by which certain bases would be renamed. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Senate Democrats are about to drive a harder bargain than expected in negotiations over how quickly to expunge Confederate names from military bases.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and 35 of her fellow Democrats plan to unveil legislation Wednesday that would require removal, within one year of the law’s enactment, of any Confederate names, symbols, displays, monuments and paraphernalia from any Defense Department asset. An exception would be made for grave markers.

Warren wrote a similar provision that became part of the Senate Armed Services Committee-approved defense authorization bill, with one key difference: The provision in the NDAA would have to be implemented within three years of the law’s enactment.

The Senate committee filed its NDAA bill Tuesday evening, and the Senate could take it up in the coming days.

Warren’s latest legislation is an attempt to lay down a dramatically firmer position ahead of that floor debate, with the country still reeling from nationwide protests over police brutality against Black people.

The House Armed Services Committee is likely to include in its own NDAA a requirement to remove Confederate vestiges from U.S. military property. The legislation that may be the most likely to be included in the House NDAA establishes, like Warren’s new bill, a one-year deadline for achieving the goal.

So if Senate Democrats get their way, the two chambers may be heading in the same direction — and it’s a faster change than anyone could have anticipated as recently as a month ago.

Republicans, meanwhile, are divided over the issue.

President Donald Trump has said that renaming the bases would dishonor America’s military, and he has threatened to veto a bill that typically receives strong bipartisan support. 

Some Senate Republicans, led by Armed Services Chairman James M. Inhofe of Oklahoma, are joining Trump in resisting the change. Inhofe has said he would prefer that state and local authorities have a say over what their bases are called. He has pledged to try to dilute the original Warren provision in his committee’s bill when it hits the floor.

[Senate chairman vows fight over Confederacy issue]

Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., another member of Armed Services, has drafted an amendment that would strip Warren’s initial provision from the committee’s bill. Hawley has said his amendment would, instead of require the replacement of Confederate names, set up a commission to study the matter, with state and local input, and then report back to Congress, which then would decide how to proceed.

Sen. John Kennedy, R-La., meanwhile, has said the Senate bill “picks on the South unfairly,” and Kennedy wants to see every U.S. military base renamed after a Medal of Honor recipient.

But some of the most senior Republicans in the Senate have suggested they would be open to renaming bases that now celebrate Confederates. These Senate GOP apostates include Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, who is descended from a Confederate veteran; John Thune of South Dakota, the Senate majority whip; and Roy Blunt of Missouri, another member of the Senate GOP leadership team.  

The House Armed Services Committee panels began marking up their companion NDAA earlier this week, and the full committee plans to finish writing it July 1.

The full House Armed Services markup is expected to include debate over an amendment based on a bill by Maryland Democrat Anthony G. Brown and Nebraska Republican Don Bacon, both members of the committee, that sets a one-year deadline for jettisoning the Confederate names.

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