Soldiers train at Fort A.P. Hill in Caroline County. (NBC 12)
WASHINGTON — Virginia Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine is preparing for battle with President Donald Trump over renaming military facilities that honor Confederates — and he’s expecting to win.
In an interview with the Mercury, Kaine said he believes the GOP-controlled Senate would override a possible presidential veto of a defense policy bill that would begin a process to rename the facilities. Doing so would require support from two-thirds of those voting.
Republicans hold 53 seats — or 53% — in the U.S. Senate. Democrats hold 233 seats — about 54% — in the U.S. House.
“I think we need to put it on his desk,” Kaine said. “If he were to veto this bill, I think we would override it.”
If the bill becomes law, it would be a major victory for the movement for racial justice and equality, which has intensified in recent months.
Kaine, who sits on the Senate Armed Services Committee, cosponsored the amendment during a closed-door markup of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) in June. Offered by Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, the amendment would remove from military property names, symbols, displays, monuments and other paraphernalia that honor or commemorate the Confederacy and those who voluntarily served it.
Kaine said the three-year process outlined in the amendment would give military communities ample time to deliberate new names for bases, barracks, streets, ships and other facilities and assets. “You want to have a process where people weigh in,” he said.
Kaine said support for the amendment is “very strong” among Republicans in both chambers of Congress. The Senate committee approved the amendment by voice vote, a procedure that’s generally used for measures that have broad bipartisan support, and only one senator voted against it, he said. Virginia Reps. Rob Wittman, a Republican, and Elaine Luria, a Democrat, who both sit on the House Armed Services Committee, could not be reached by the Mercury for comment.
Trump has threatened to veto the bill. “I will Veto the Defense Authorization Bill if the Elizabeth “Pocahontas” Warren (of all people!) Amendment, which will lead to the renaming (plus other bad things!) of Fort Bragg, Fort Robert E. Lee, and many other Military Bases from which we won Two World Wars, is in the Bill!” Trump tweeted last week.
Kaine said he would be shocked if Trump attempts to torpedo the bill, a $740 billion measure that authorizes federal funding for the U.S. Department of Defense and other national security programs through fiscal year 2021 and is regarded as must-pass legislation. The legislation has cleared Congress 59 years in a row and is on course to hit the 60-year mark this fall.
Senate Majority Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) told Fox News last week that he hopes Trump doesn’t veto the bill because of the amendment. This week, Sen. Chuck Grassley, a high-ranking Republican from Iowa, predicted that Congress would “probably” override such a veto, according to The Hill.
The Senate will resume debate after it returns from its two-week July 4 recess. Some senators have filed amendments that would soften or change the amendment’s base language in the bill, Kaine said. “But I don’t think they’ll get 60 votes, so I think the provision as is in the Senate will stick.”
The U.S. House marked up its own version of the bill earlier this month. An amendment to rename military installations passed along party lines, and the overall bill was reported unanimously out of the committee, said Ralph Jones, Jr., a spokesperson for Rep. Donald McEachin, a Democrat who represents Richmond and points south.
The House version requires the Defense Department to identify, report on a process and change the names of all military bases and infrastructure named for individuals who served in the Confederacy within one year, Jones said — two years less than the Senate version.
On Thursday, McEachin introduced legislation that would direct heads of the Defense and Veterans Affairs Departments to inventory and study works on federal lands that commemorate Confederates on flags, symbols, signs, statues or plaques.
“Our public lands play a vital role in capturing the historical and cultural stories that shape our nation’s history and identity, and these lands help facilitate the national narrative of the American Civil War,” McEachin wrote in a letter to colleagues urging support for the bill. “Despite the significant role public lands play in our education and reflection of the war, we do not have a complete picture of what Confederate commemorative works exist on these lands.”
Virginia is home to three military installations named for Confederate generals: Fort Lee, an Army base south of Richmond named for Robert E. Lee, the most famous Confederate general; Fort A.P. Hill, a military training site north of Richmond named for one of Lee’s most trusted lieutenants; and Fort Pickett, a site near Blackstone named after Maj. Gen. George Pickett, the Confederate officer who helped lead what became known as Pickett’s Charge at the Battle of Gettysburg. No other state has as many bases named after Confederates.
Other statues and memorials of Confederates are also coming down in the commonwealth and across the country. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) ordered the removal of four portraits of former House speakers who served as Confederate leaders. And House Democrats are preparing for a vote to remove a marble bust of Roger Taney, the former chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court who authored the 1857 Dred Scott decision, from the U.S. Capitol and replace it with a bust of Justice Thurgood Marshall, the first Black justice on the high court.
Last month, Pelosi called for the removal of 11 statues in the U.S. Capitol that represent Confederate soldiers and officials — including one of Lee, presented by the state of Virginia.
She asked a joint congressional committee to direct the Architect of the Capitol to take immediate steps to remove the statues, which states selected to represent them in Congress. The statues, she wrote in a letter to the committee chairs, “pay homage to hate, not heritage.”
McConnell, however, has said the decision to remove statues should be left to states. The effort to rename military facilities is “quite different from trying to airbrush the Capitol of every statue,” he told Fox News last week.
Last year, McEachin wrote a letter to Gov. Ralph Northam calling on the state to remove Lee’s statue in the U.S. Capitol. He has also sent a letter asking the heads of the Defense and Veterans Affairs Departments to rename Forts Lee and Pickett, both of which are in his district. As a state senator, he introduced a bill in 2016 in the General Assembly to designate Election Day as a holiday instead of Lee-Jackson Day. The Virginia General Assembly passed an identical bill earlier this year, Jones said.
Kaine also took on the administration with an amendment he offered last month to the NDAA that would prevent the use of military funds or personnel, including the National Guard, against protesters. The amendment came the same week that law enforcement officers used force against peaceful protesters in a park near the White House. Also that day, Trump threatened to deploy the military to cities that don’t stop violence during protests, according to NPR.
The House version of the bill does not contain a provision to prevent the use of military force against peaceful protesters, Jones said. The provision, he added, is expected to be offered on the House floor during debate of the bill in the full chamber.
Kaine said the measure won unanimous support in committee and that no amendments to his knowledge have been offered that would soften or change the language in the base bill.
“Up to a day before the committee vote, I thought it was gonna be a straight party line vote, and I was gonna lose,” he told the Mercury. “But the Republicans clearly put their heads together about the amendment the night before and decided to support it.”
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