'They are named for traitors': Democrats launch a last-ditch effort to rename US military bases that honor Confederate leaders

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'They are named for traitors': Democrats launch a last-ditch effort to rename US military bases that honor Confederate leaders
President Donald Trump meets with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Congressional leadership, October 16, 2019.Shealah Craighead/The White House
  • House Democrats on Tuesday launched a last-ditch effort to the pass the country's annual defense bill by this month.
  • The lawmakers emphasized the importance of including a directive to change the names of military bases honoring Confederate leaders of the Civil War.
  • "The men for whom these bases are named are not heroes," House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said. "They are named for traitors who took up arms against America and killed American soldiers in defense of slavery."
  • Another Democrat said US troops "should not have to serve on a base named for somebody who believed that person ought to be enslaved."

House Democrats on Tuesday launched a last-ditch effort to the pass the country's annual defense bill by this month, and emphasized the importance of including a provision to change the names of military bases honoring Confederate leaders of the Civil War.

Lawmakers from both parties debated the merits of the upcoming fiscal year's National Defense Authorization Act, which authorizes $740 billion in funding for the entire US military. Up for debate was the inclusion of a provision that would rename US military bases that honor Confederate leaders within the next three years, a proposition that has gained momentum as the country continues to grapples with racial tensions.

"It's important to know, this isn't the names of things ... that later we found out that so and so did this and that, that was so wrong," House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said on Capitol Hill. "This was a decision made to name these bases after people, white supremacists, and those who were part of the Confederacy."

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"The men for whom these bases are named are not heroes," Pelosi added. "They are named for traitors who took up arms against America and killed American soldiers in defense of slavery."

'They are named for traitors': Democrats launch a last-ditch effort to rename US military bases that honor Confederate leaders
US Army John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School students at Civil Affairs Specialist and Psychological Operations Specialist Graduation at Fort Bragg, North Carolina December 18, 2019.US Army/K. Kassens

Democratic Rep. Steny Hoyer of Maryland agreed that the inclusion of the provision was justified.

"All of us would agree that one human being owning another human being is untenable, but it is what we fought a war over," Hoyer said. "The names of those who fought violently to perpetuate slavery and rebelled against the United States do not the deserve the honor of being associated with the installation's housing."

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Hoyer added that US troops "should not have to serve on a base named for somebody who believed that person ought to be enslaved."

Democratic Rep. Anthony Brown of Maryland, a retired US Army officer, concurred and added that "we will lead with our values."

An overwhelming maority of House lawmakers supported the bill in a 335-78 vote. The Senate will take up the final bill later this week and is widely expected to vote in favor of it.

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But despite some bipartisan agreement on the provision, President Donald Trump's potential veto casts a shadow over the major funding bill. The Office of Management and Budget announced on Tuesday that Trump intends to veto the bill, partly because of the renaming provision.

Trump has long argued against renaming the military bases and claimed it would erase the installations' legacies.

"Over the course of United States history, these locations have taken on significance to the American story and those who have helped write it that far transcends their namesakes," the White House's Office of Management and Budget said in a statement on Tuesday. "The Administration respects the legacy of the millions of American servicemen and women who have served with honor at these military bases, and who, from these locations, have fought, bled, and died for their country."

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Despite Trump's protests, the House has garnered enough votes to block a potential veto from the White House.

Pentagon leaders are already taking steps to strip Confederacy-linked themes from its military bases, including the ban of the Confederate flag. In addition to 10 US Army bases that are still named after Confederate leaders, other namesakes, including street names, would be required to change their name.

Several replacement names have been floated in political circles, such as Medal of Honor recipient U.S. Army Master Sgt. Roy Benavidez, a Green Beret who took part in "six hours of hell" in the Vietnam War.

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