GOP-led panel tries to remove Confederate names on military property amid Trump’s opposition

“There’s always a history we don’t want to forget,” said Sen. Mike Rounds, a South Dakota Republican who sits on the Senate Armed Services Committee, when asked about the plan he supports. “In this regard, I agree with the president that we do not want to forget our history. … but at the same time it does not mean that we should continue with those bases with the names of individuals who fought against our countries.”

The amendment put the GOP leaders in an awkward position – stuck between their efforts to try black voters in a high-stakes election year and a president who demanded that Republicans draw the line and return against the changes.

On Thursday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell declined to say whether he would support the plan, telling CNN: “It will be decided by the committee.”

The amendment was added to the annual defense bill and can still be repealed as it breaks through the legislative process. If Trump vetoed such a bill, it would be a big risk given that a popular defense measure sets the Pentagon’s policy.

Asked whether presenting the Confederate amendment would be politically problematic from a PR standpoint, Senate Majority Senate John Thune admitted Thursday that it would be difficult.

“Well, I mean, if it’s in the basic bill that came off the board at the time, yes,” a Republican from South Dakota told reporters. “Obviously it’s hard to lift if we take something out of the bill … so we’ll see where that debate goes. Like I said, I saw what the president said. I wasn’t aware of that.”

Adding even more complications to Republicans is the fact that Congress has approved a defense bill every year for the past 59 years – so it will no doubt put pressure on lawmakers to resolve the problematic point so they can pass a policy bill for the 60th year.

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Trump has voiced opposition to such an effort over the past two days, citing the U.S. legacy, while adding on Twitter on Thursday, “We hope our big Republican senators won’t fall for it.”

But the Republican senators themselves who are running for re-election are divided on the plan, with Iowa Senator Joni Ernst backing the measure, while North Carolina Sen. Thom Tillis opposed it. Others, including Georgia Senator David Perdue, did not respond to a spokesman’s request for comment.

“Senator Tillis opposed Senator Warren’s amendment and opposes the renaming of Fort Bragg,” said Tillis spokesman Daniel Keylin, who accused the “Liberal Democrats” of wanting to “overshadow” the defense bill with “political theater.”

Some Republican senators were in line with Trump, including Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri, who opposed Warren’s plan.

“I just don’t think Congress demanding that they rename themselves and try to erase that part of our history is not the way you deal with that history,” Hawley said. “I don’t think he’s turned his back on how to deal with him, face him and move on.”

Hawley added, “I’ve heard from many soldiers who have gone through those bases and they’ve told me that those bases mean something. I have my history with that, please don’t rename them.”

Arkansas Senator Tom Cotton also opposed the amendment, with the help of an aide who said the GOP senator had unsuccessfully sought a change in the plan to exempt monuments in military cemeteries for Confederate soldiers.

But it was clear that the change had put some Republicans in an awkward spot.

Senator Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee, who also sits on the Armed Services Committee, would not say whether she supported the amendment in committee. “It’s an issue we’re reviewing,” she said.

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Senator Deb Fischer of Nebraska did not discuss her point of view on the issue, while Senator Roger Wicker of Mississippi said, “I think the commission’s idea is deserved.”

Wicker did not answer whether he voted for him on the board, but the amendment would create an independent commission to review and work out a detailed name removal plan.

Some have made it clear that they support the amendment, including Dan Sullivan’s alax senas.

Other Republican senators were reluctant to publicly confront the issue. GOP Chief John Kennedy of Louisiana, whose home state has military facilities with Confederate names, answered questions about the amendment with, “I have nothing for you to do about it.”

A lone black Republican in the Senate, Tim Scott, told CNN that he “did not think much” when asked if he supported the removal of the names of Confederate leaders from military bases. Scott added that he “focused on police reform”.

Pressed further if he is open to keep the names of the Confederacy, Scott said he must first “spend time thinking about the matter”.

Army facilities named after Confederate leaders include Fort Bragg in North Carolina, Fort Hood in Texas and Fort A. P. Hill in Virginia. Military bases across the country continued to bear the names of Confederate military commanders, even due to strong external pressure to rename them.

CNN reported earlier this week that U.S. Secretary of Defense Ryan McCarthy and Secretary of Defense Mark Esper were open to conducting a “two-party conversation” about renaming nearly a dozen major bases and facilities bearing the names of Confederate military commanders, a military official said.

Peaceful protests calling for justice and dealing with racial inequality dominated the U.S. after Floyd’s death at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer, prompting many to reconsider the status quo, including the widespread use of the Confederate leader’s name and symbols.

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Yet some top Republicans have expressed resistance to any change.

Senate Armed Services Chairman Jim Inhofe, a Republican from Oklahoma, told reporters in a conference call Thursday that he has differences with Christian Democrats on the issue and wants “local communities, cities, towns, states, to participate in whether or not they want to whether to do so ”and that the inclusion of the amendment was a“ first step ”.

“We have a long way to go,” Inhofe said.

A Democrat who ranked on the committee, Sen. Jack Reed of Rhode Island, who was on the same conference call as Inhofe, agreed the amendment was a “first step.”

“I think what we saw yesterday is a very thoughtful and bipartisan process of taking on a very complicated and difficult issue and establishing a commission that will have a three-year period of action,” Reed said. “It will look carefully at all aspects of this issue and will also be able to involve local communities that have an interest in the names of these facilities and conclude after that process the way to rename these facilities in such a way that we do everything to maintain, I think, our loyalty to the Constitution and the principles that govern the country. “

This story was updated with additional developments on Thursday.

CNN’s Nikki Carvajal, Ali Zaslav and Barbara Starr contributed to this report.

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