WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump is battling House Speaker Nancy Pelosi over renaming military bases that honor Confederate generals — and he's at odds with some in his own party as well.
Pelosi swung forcefully against Trump on Thursday, saying it's time to remove symbols honoring Confederate figures from military bases and the U.S. Capitol as the pandemic and civic unrest force a national reckoning with racial discrimination.
"These names have to go from these bases, and these statues have to go from the Capitol,“ the Democrat said at her weekly news conference. “The American people know these names have to go.”
Confederate monuments have reemerged as a national flashpoint since the death of George Floyd, a black man who died after a white Minneapolis officer pressed his knee into his neck for several minutes. Protesters decrying racism have targeted Confederate monuments in multiple cities, and some state officials are considering taking them down.
Trump doubled down Thursday on his vow to not rename military bases honoring Confederate generals, even as NASCAR announced it would ban displays of the Confederate flag at its races.
“Seriously failed presidential candidate, Senator Elizabeth 'Pocahontas’ Warren, just introduced an Amendment on the renaming of many of our legendary Military Bases from which we trained to WIN two World Wars. Hopefully our great Republican Senators won’t fall for this!” Trump said in a Twitter blast.
But Senate Republicans, who are at risk of losing their majority in the November elections, aren't with Trump on this issue. A GOP-led Senate panel on Thursday approved a plan by Warren, a Massachusetts Democrat, to have the names of Confederate figures removed from military bases and other Pentagon assets.
The ban would be imposed within three years and was approved by a voice vote as a piece of the annual Pentagon policy bill. A commission would be set up to oversee the process. The provision is likely to be matched when the Democratic-controlled House takes up the measure in coming weeks.
Confederate symbols in the military and on Capitol Hill are coming under attack as public opinion has dramatically shifted since Floyd's killing.
“The statues in the Capitol should embody our highest ideals as Americans, expressing who we are and who we aspire to be as a nation," Pelosi wrote earlier. “Monuments to men who advocated cruelty and barbarism to achieve such a plainly racist end are a grotesque affront to these ideals.”
At her press conference, she said of Trump: “He seems to be the only person left who doesn't get it.”
The presence of statues of generals and other figures of the Confederacy in Capitol locations such as Statuary Hall — the original House chamber — has been denounced by African American lawmakers for many years. Former Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., D-Ill., was known to give tours pointing out the statues.
But it's up to the states to determine which of their historical figures to display. Jefferson Davis, a former U.S. senator from Mississippi who was president of the Confederate States of America, is represented by one of two statues from that state. Pelosi, D-Calif., noted that Davis and Confederate Vice President Alexander Stephens, whose statue comes from Georgia, “were charged with treason against the United States."
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said the appropriate way to handle the statue controversy would be to continue the trend of states replacing them on their own.
“They can trade them out at any time ... a number of states are trading them out now,“ McConnell told reporters. “I think that’s the appropriate way to deal with the statue issue. The states make that decision.”
McConnell didn’t say whether he supports renaming bases such as Fort Bragg in North Carolina, named after Braxton Bragg, a Confederate commander and slave owner.
Senators on the Armed Services Committee approved the amendment on renaming the bases on a bipartisan voice vote. Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla., said he supported the move, while Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska, said he “did not oppose” it.
Only one, Republican Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri, voted against it in committee, according to two people who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were unauthorized to discuss the private debate.
“I just don’t think that Congress mandating that these be renamed and attempting to erase that part of our history is a way that you deal with that history," Hawley later told reporters. "I don’t think turning your back on it’s how you deal with it, confront it and then move on.”
Chairman James Inhofe, R-Okla., wanted assurances that local communities would have input, aides said. There was also a push to ensure some flexibility, for example, for commanders who served both sides. Exceptions are also made for grave markers, all but ensuring no disruptions at Arlington National Cemetery, aides said.
The new commission will be made up of eight members, four from the Defense Department and four from both parties in the Senate.
Associated Press writer Laurie Kellman in Washington contributed to this report.