By Patricia Zengerle
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump on Friday said the Senate Armed Services Committee’s chairman, fellow Republican James Inhofe, will not change the names of military bases, even though Congress has passed legislation to rename posts that honor leaders of the Confederate armies who fought against U.S. forces.
“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!),” Trump wrote on Twitter.
The Senate and House of Representatives this week each passed their versions of the National Defense Authorization Act, or NDAA, a massive annual bill setting policy for the Pentagon, including purchases from defense contractors.
One provision of the $740 billion legislation passed in both chambers was a requirement that the names of Confederate generals be removed from military facilities like Fort Bragg in North Carolina and Fort Hood in Texas.
Tributes to those military leaders – and other slave owners – have been in focus during weeks of protests sparked by the police killings of Black Americans.
Trump, who has deployed federal forces against protesters he calls “anarchists,” promised to veto the NDAA – which has become law for 59 straight years – if the base-name provision remained in the final version.
Now that the Democratic-led House and Republican-controlled Senate have passed versions of the bill, it goes to conference, where lawmakers will come up with a compromise version.
It was not clear that Inhofe, a reliable Trump ally, could change the provision, as any final bill must be supported by the Democratic and Republican lawmakers on the conference committee. However, congressional aides said there was no ban on such a change if negotiators agreed.
A Senate Armed Services Committee spokeswoman said Trump’s tweet spoke for itself, and pointed to Inhofe’s previous statements opposing the proposal.
Democrats said they remained committed to the plan, noting it is also supported by many Republicans.
“President Trump’s insistence on glorifying Confederates who fought against the U.S. has no support from the American people and our military,” Senator Jack Reed, the ranking Senate Armed Services Democrat, said in a statement.
“That’s just not how this works,” Representative Adam Smith, the Democratic chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, wrote on Twitter.
Inhofe is running for re-election in Oklahoma, which was known as Indian Territory during the Civil War. Although some Native American tribes in what would become the state in 1907 sent soldiers to fight for the Confederacy, others refused to ally with the secessionists.
Before Trump rejected renaming the bases, senior Pentagon officials had said they were open to discussing the issue.
(Reporting by Patricia Zengerle; Additional reporting by Lisa Lambert and Idrees Ali; Editing by Franklin Paul, Chris Reese and Jonathan Oatis)