GUEST EDITORIAL: Call Trump's bluff on renaming military bases

Bloomberg Opinion (TNS)
President Donald Trump speaks to a small crowd outside the USS North Carolina on Sept. 2, 2020 in Wilmington, North Carolina. (Photo by Melissa Sue Gerrits/Getty Images/TNS)

In yet another expression of lame-duck pique, President Donald Trump has threatened to veto the 2021 National Defense Authorization Act over provisions to rename military bases that honor Confederate generals. Trump is apparently calculating that lawmakers will capitulate rather than risk holding up $740 billion in funding for the military. Senate Republicans should prove him wrong.

The push to remove Confederate names from U.S. military bases gained momentum after last summer’s protests for racial justice. In both the House and Senate, bipartisan majorities passed versions of the NDAA that would begin the process of stripping Confederate names from 10 major Army bases — including Fort Benning (Georgia), Fort Bragg (North Carolina) and Fort Hood (Texas) — as well as from ships and streets on military installations. The House version also called for banning the display of the Confederate flag on military bases.

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Trump vowed that he would “not even consider” renaming the bases. His defense secretary, Mark Esper, signaled openness to possible compromise, but any effort by the administration to work with Congress on the issue ended when Trump fired Esper on Nov. 9.

Congressional negotiators have made progress in reconciling their versions of the bill. Democrats have agreed to adopt the Senate’s three-year timetable for removing Confederate names, rather than the one-year deadline passed in the House. The bill now needs to be passed quickly. Among other things, it would give service members a 3% pay raise and provide added benefits for members of the military who assist with pandemic response. Because on-time funding is critical for military readiness, defense authorization bills have passed and been signed into law for 59 straight years. A presidential veto would bring that record to an ignominious end – but Congress shouldn’t back down.

On Dec. 1, the president added a new condition for his signature, insisting Congress include a measure unrelated to the military: repeal of the shield that protects companies from liability for user content online. The White House has suggested Trump might drop his opposition to renaming bases in exchange for the repeal, but Congress should resist. Trump’s threat puts his preference for historic symbols of rebellion against the United States above the interests of those currently in uniform, not to mention the security of the nation they serve. It also voices contempt for members of his own party, since an overwhelming majority of Republican senators have now voted for legislation that included renaming bases.

Congress should pass the measure — and if Trump follows through on his threat, it should vote to override his veto.

— From the Bloomberg Opinion editorial board.