Does Mitch McConnell want an up-or-down vote for his caucus on whether U.S. military bases should continue to honor the CSA in their nomenclature? Especially right now, five months out from a national election at a moment when white Americans have rarely been more sympathetic to their black countrymen? That’s what Hawley’s going to try to force on him, it appears, because Hawley’s running for president in 2024 and already thinking about stiff competition for the populist vote from the likes of Tom Cotton and Ted Cruz. Can’t go wrong vice-signaling in defense of traditions honoring the Confederacy if you’re looking to get a leg up in that situation.
On Thursday, he tweeted about the vote, adding, “Congress should not be mandating renaming of our bases and military installations.”
Hawley later elaborated to reporters in the Capitol, “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.”
In a floor speech Thursday, Hawley said he would offer his own amendment to undo Warren’s “not to celebrate the cause of the Confederacy but to embrace the cause of union, our union, shared together as Americans. It is time for our leaders to stop using their position here to divide us.”
There’s no easy way out for Cocaine Mitch now that the Armed Services Committee has voted to add Warren’s amendment to the final defense bill. If the Senate passes the final bill with Warren’s amendment in it, Trump might veto it because of Warren’s proposal — which would mean no funding for the Pentagon and a black eye for the party as the president goes to the mat to protect Confederate names for bases. On the other hand, if the Senate votes on Hawley’s bill to try to strip out Warren’s amendment, it would force every Senate Republican to take a public stand on this issue. They don’t need to do that right now; they could just pass the final defense bill with Warren’s amendment in it and say that they had no choice but to vote yes, that funding the Pentagon is too important.
Choose your poison, Mitch. Either hand this off to Trump and let Senate Republicans try to run away from the issue, which is probably futile given how much media attention a Trump veto would receive. Or tackle the issue head on via Hawley’s bill and let the political chips fall where they may on the roll-call vote. If he’s inclined towards the second option, it’s worth noting that Hawley’s amendment is very likely to fail: Not only would all 47 Democrats vote against it, there are various Republicans in the chamber who have gone on record in the past few days to say that they’re open to renaming the bases. The latest? Texas’s John Cornyn, surprisingly.
“I was asked that question yesterday,” Cornyn said, a nod to comments he made Thursday to reporters in which he pushed back against the notion of changing base names. “And since that time I’ve learned actually that the Senate Armed Services Committee has voted in a bipartisan vote to issue a study, a commission to come back with recommendations to Congress. I think that’s the appropriate way to handle it.
Roy Blunt, the other senator from Hawley’s home state of Missouri, is fine with it too:
Blunt also adds, unsolicited: “Braxton Bragg was probably the worst commanding general in the Confederate army. Interesting general to name a fort after.”
— Phil Mattingly (@Phil_Mattingly) June 11, 2020
Mike Rounds of South Dakota sounds like he’s on Warren’s side as well. I’m going to guess that the usual centrist trio of Collins, Murkowski, and Romney will also support her amendment, and very likely Cory Gardner since he needs to do something to pander to swing voters in his blue state with the election approaching. There may even be others, as fencesitters like Ben Sasse and Tim Scott are getting cover to support a name change from respected retired officers like David Petraeus and John Kelly:
“In 2020 I think it’s time the potus, Congress and our Army take a hard look at renaming, and do it,” [Kelly] said in an email. “I would hope the new bases would not be renamed after politicians, but after Medal of Honor recipients or exceptional soldiers who have fallen in defense of our country — of which America’s Army has any number to choose from. I am confident that with leaders like Secretaries Esper, McCarthy and General Milley they can convince the powers that be that it is the right thing to do.”
He added: “Interestingly most of the generals the bases are named after were mediocre to poor generals.”
Even if the Republicans I’ve named above are the only ones to cross the aisle, that’s more than enough to defeat Hawley’s bill alongside a unanimous Democratic caucus. So Hawley’s attempt at vice-signaling isn’t even an earnest attempt to stop Warren. His bill will fail and he knows it. It’s simply a branding exercise for him ahead of 2024, with potentially uncomfortable complications for his party.
His floor speech yesterday in support of his amendment is embedded below. It was obnoxious in ways large and small, starting with quoting Lincoln of all people as part of an argument for honoring the Confederacy at U.S. military bases. He tried to make the case that Warren and Democrats are being divisive by forcing the issue and starting a sort of cultural civil war over it. But he’s the one who wants to do battle; Cornyn, Blunt, Rounds, and others seemingly see this differently, as a small overdue national gesture of conciliation to black Americans — and black veterans especially — after our country shamefully lent its military prestige to people who waged war in defense of enslaving their ancestors. From the Times:
“It is really kind of a slap in the face to those African-American soldiers who are on bases named after generals who fought for their cause,” said Jerry Green, a retired noncommissioned officer who trained at Ft. Bragg, N.C., which is named for a Confederate general, Braxton Bragg. “That cause was slavery.”…
For black members of the military, seeing confederate names on military barracks delivers a special sting, given that they lionize men who led a treasonous war.
“I have been in every one of those barracks,” said Stephane Manuel, another West Point graduate who served in the Army from 2011 to 2017. “I studied in them and had friends there. I didn’t like it. The military hasn’t wanted to reconcile that the Confederate forces were traitors. I always felt from the mere moral standpoint of what they were fighting for went against what West Point stands for today.”
Changing the name of a fort to honor, say, Dorie Miller instead of some traitor is literally the least we can do to honor America’s black soldiers. In fact, Hawley’s claim that this issue is “divisive” is revealing in how he assigns the onus for that divisiveness. Naming U.S. bases after Confederates in the first place was necessarily “divisive” to black Americans, a small insult among many greater ones to remind them that their feelings didn’t matter, yet the country tolerated that for generations because it was deemed more important to show white southerners that they were fully part of the United States and its institutions after the Civil War. All Warren’s doing with her amendment is trying to make amends for that original “divisiveness.” If that happens to end up creating a new cultural division because some people just can’t let go of honoring Confederate “heritage,” well, no one’s forcing Hawley to be on the other side of it. That’s his choice.