The Senate overwhelmingly passed its $741 billion defense policy legislation on Thursday, with the Republican-led body defying a threat from President Donald Trump to veto legislation that would force the removal of Confederate names from Army bases.
Senators approved the National Defense Authorization Act in a 86-14 blowout. Both the House and Senate have passed bills this week with majorities large enough to overcome a veto from Trump.
Senate and House Armed Services Committee leaders will soon begin negotiations to hammer out the differences in their competing bills.
The measure would kick off a process forcing the Pentagon to scrub names, monuments and paraphernalia honoring the Confederacy and its leaders from military bases and assets over the next three years. The House defense bill passed Tuesday, would force the renaming of bases within a year.
The effort, sponsored by former presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), comes amid protests over systemic racism and policy brutality across the country. Ten Army bases are named for Confederate military leaders.
Trump has said his administration won’t consider renaming bases — labeling it an attempt to rewrite U.S. history — contradicting Pentagon leaders who’ve said base names should be reviewed. The president has also warned he’d veto defense legislation that would rename bases.
But with similar renaming provisions in both bills, Trump is likely to be handed bipartisan defense legislation that forces the issue.
Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.), whose state is home to three Army bases that bear the names of Confederates, defended the proposal on the Senate floor Wednesday. He argued the proposal was revised to accommodate both Republicans and Democrats and allow input from communities.
“Do you really expect us to believe that a society that continues to honor those who tried to destroy our country to save slavery will be serious about ending the racial disparities that exist today?” Kaine said.
The measure was adopted by voice vote during the Armed Services Committee markup last month, though not all senators agreed with the move. Senate Armed Services Chair Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) expressed consternation about the provision after its adoption, and argued local communities should have power to halt decisions to rename the federal installations.
Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), who opposed the provision in committee, filed an amendment that would have undone the provision. But the amendment was not granted a vote on the Senate floor.
Also left on the cutting room floor was an amendment from Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) to stymie Trump’s plans to reduce U.S. troop levels in Germany. Romney attempted to secure a last-second vote on the measure Thursday afternoon, but was rebuffed by Inhofe.
A similar bipartisan provision was adopted to the House bill amid bipartisan concerns that such a move would undermine NATO and embolden Russia. But the administration’s plan would likely send some of them to other parts of Europe. Inhofe came out in support of the plan on Wednesday after receiving a briefing from senior Pentagon officials.
Ahead of Thursday’s vote, Inhofe hailed the bill as a bipartisan product of unprecedented member input.
“The way we win against our adversaries is by making sure fights never start by sending a strong message that you can’t win. Don’t even try,” Inhofe said. “That’s what were doing in this bill.”
Ahead of a final vote, senators firmly rejected a progressive effort to slash defense spending on Wednesday. An amendment from Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) to slash the bill’s top line by 10 percent was rejected by a 23-77 vote.
In all, the legislation would authorize $740.5 billion in national defense funding for fiscal 2021. Within that total, $636.4 billion is authorized for the base Pentagon budget and $69 billion is dedicated to the Pentagon’s separate war account. An extra $25.9 billion is authorized for national security and nuclear weapons programs under the Energy Department.
The Senate Armed Services Committee set aside $1.4 billion for the coming fiscal year for a new Pacific Deterrence Initiative, a priority for both parties aimed at beefing up the U.S. military posture in the region and deterring China’s aims there.
Senators allocated $9.1 billion in the bill to buy 91 Lockheed Martin-built F-35 fighters, 14 more than requested by the Pentagon.
The legislation authorizes $21.3 billion for the Navy to build seven warships, an increase of $1.4 billion from the administration’s request.
The measure also supports a 3 percent pay raise for troops, even with the Pentagon’s request and what House lawmakers approved.