Senate Armed Services Chair Jim Inhofe is vowing to yank a provision from defense policy legislation that would remove the names of Confederate leaders from Army bases, an uphill political battle after the House and Senate adopted bills with similar provisions this week by wide margins.
President Donald Trump — who opposes removing the names from bases and has threatened to veto a version of the annual National Defense Authorization Act that would do so — talked up the fight on Twitter on Friday, saying Inhofe (R-Okla.) told him base names won’t be changed.
“I spoke to highly respected (Chairman) Senator @JimInhofe, who has informed me that he WILL NOT be changing the names of our great Military Bases and Forts, places from which we won two World Wars (and more!). Like me, Jim is not a believer in ‘Cancel Culture,'” Trump tweeted.
Inhofe, a reliable Trump ally, made the vow to fight the provision during an interview with The Oklahoman. Inhofe told the home state newspaper that he spoke to the president Thursday about the effort and predicted that it would be removed from a compromise defense bill, without specifying how.
“We’re going to see to it that provision doesn’t survive the bill,” Inhofe told the Oklahoman. “I’m not going to say how at this point.”
Inhofe’s spokesperson, Leacy Burke, added that Trump’s tweet about his conversation with Inhofe “speaks for itself.”
Though Inhofe wields considerable influence as Armed Services chair, the odds aren’t in his favor to strip the provision. Similar proposals were adopted by both the House and Senate Armed Services committees, which will make it exceedingly tough to remove when both sides begin to negotiate a final bill.
Inhofe’s move is also sure to upset House and Senate Democrats who have backed efforts to scrub Confederate names, memorials and other honors from military assets.
The provisions in the Democratic-led House and Republican-led Senate defense bills aren’t identical, though both would force the removal of the Confederate names.
The Senate defense bill, which passed Thursday in an 86-14 blowout, would kick start a process to remove names, monuments and other paraphernalia that honor the Confederacy and its leaders from Defense Department property and assets over three years. The House bill, which passed Tuesday, would force the renaming of bases within a year.
Both bills passed with enough votes to overturn a possible veto by Trump.
The Senate provision was adopted last month by the Armed Services Committee by voice vote and was sponsored by Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), a former presidential candidate and top liberal critic of Trump.
Though some top Republicans have indicated renaming bases is worth looking at, others, including conservative Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) attempted to undo the provision. Hawley’s effort wasn’t granted a vote before the defense bill passed this week.
Inhofe has previously expressed opposition to the measure, arguing local communities should have greater power to block decisions to rename bases.
“I think they ought to have veto authority,” Inhofe told reporters in June.
Trump, meanwhile, has said his administration won’t consider renaming bases, overriding Pentagon leaders who have said the issue is worth reviewing.
Joint Chiefs Chair Gen. Mark Milley told lawmakers this month that he supports a commission that would review the base names, among other things.
“The way we should do it matters as much as that we should do it,” he said. “So we need to have, I’ve recommended, a commission of folks to take a hard look at the bases, the statues, the names, all of this stuff, to see if we can have a rational, mature discussion.”
The White House has issued a formal veto threat against the House defense bill, citing the renaming of bases as one of Trump’s objections to the legislation.
The House and Senate have not yet launched negotiations on a compromise defense bill.