Trump: Jim Inhofe promised me the final defense bill won't rename military bases named after Confederates

You’re allowed to cancel traitors, man. In fact, cancelling them is an act of civic hygiene.


There’s a wrinkle to that tweet. The Senate’s version of the defense bill, which contained Elizabeth Warren’s amendment to start the process on renaming bases, has already passed by an overwhelming majority, 86/14. What Trump means is that Inhofe has promised him it won’t appear in the final bill that’s yet to be negotiated between the House and Senate.

But it’s not clear why he thinks Inhofe has the power to guarantee that:

Inhofe is the head of the GOP-controlled Senate Armed Services Committee. Normally one could expect a committee to block a bill that’s disfavored by the chairman. But Inhofe already had a crack at stopping the Warren amendment in June — and lost that vote. If the final compromise bill retains the provision, as Democrats will insist upon, what makes him think he has the juice to sink it next time?

He’s hinting that he has a secret plan:

Inhofe, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, also predicted that a provision would be removed from the bill that requires the 10 military bases named after Confederate generals to be renamed. Inhofe said he spoke with President Donald Trump on Thursday about the provision, which the president and Inhofe oppose.

“We’re going to see to it that provision doesn’t survive the bill,” Inhofe said. “I’m not going to say how at this point.”


This issue is now more interesting as a strategic question for both parties ahead of the election than it is on the merits. Quinnipiac polled it this week in Florida and found, as you’d expect, that public opinion is closely split. There’s a narrow plurality in favor of renaming the bases.

What do you do with that data if you’re a Republican senator? On the one hand, renaming is favored by independents and white college grads, two groups whom you’d like to make some inroads with before November. On the other hand, it’s opposed by white voters generally and senior citizens, two groups whom you really need to turn out for you. There’s little clarity here on what the “safe” position is on the bases.

But there’s more clarity on whether Trump is likely to be a one-term president, which means this subject may end up as a proxy issue for both parties on the president himself. He’s been very vocal about his opposition to renaming bases named after Confederates despite the middling public reaction to the issue, after all, which means how Republicans vote here is destined to be viewed more as a loyalty test than anything else. If you’re a GOP senator, do you want to pass — or fail — that test?

The question’s not as easy as it sounds. The best explanation for why Trump and his toadies in the House started taking shots at Liz Cheney this week is that they’re suddenly nervous about congressional Republicans turning on him en masse as his polling deteriorates. Making an example of Cheney is a way to send the message that disloyalty won’t be tolerated even if Republicans might hold a few more seats this fall by distancing themselves from Trump.


But maybe that’s okay with some congressional Republicans. If they think he’s doomed, they might relish an opportunity to show swing voters back home that they’re not under the president’s thumb, as Democrats are always accusing them of being. Voting to rename the bases and then overriding his veto would be an efficient way to signal some degree of independence from him, notably on a culture-war issue. Trump could always turn around and attack them, but doing that would be self-defeating in that it would risk costing his own caucus some of their seats in the next Congress by turning MAGA fans against them. A second term won’t be much fun if he’s stuck bargaining with Pelosi and Schumer over everything.

What about Democrats, though? Do they maybe want to let Republicans strip out Warren’s amendment? There’s an argument that they might — namely, if they think they’re months away from having total control of government, why would they want to share credit with congressional GOPers for renaming bases? Let Inhofe drive a hard bargain in the conference committee, then reluctantly agree to remove the provision and scream about it for days. “These pro-Confederate right-wingers were prepared to hold up money for our troops so that racist traitors could continue to be honored on our bases! We’ll right this wrong when you put us in charge!” Might help with suburbanites.


I don’t think Dems will agree to strip it out, though. They’re going to insist that the renaming provision ends up in the final bill for a simple reason: They want Trump to choke on it and veto it. One key reason why his polling has tanked over the past two months, I think, is the public’s sense that his priorities are out of whack. Back in April, when most of the country wanted to go slow on reopening and put safety first by containing the virus, he charged ahead anyway. Last month, with a second wave spreading across the south and California and protests about racial injustice happening nationwide, he seemed more interested in talking about statues. The defense bill sets Dems up with a new way to press the case that he cares about the wrong things. Does Trump want to keep Confederate names on bases so badly that he’d actually hold up money for the troops because of it? Because that’d be a bad look.

But he might do it. The man really seems to have a thing about Confederate iconography:

President Donald Trump erupted late last week after Defense Secretary Mark Esper issued a new military-wide directive that was a de facto ban on the display of the Confederate flag.

According to two people familiar with his reaction, Trump was fuming over Esper’s carefully worded memo that did not mention the flag by name, but effectively banned it from being flown on military installations by not naming it.

Trump has declined to denounce the Confederate flag in recent weeks and has instead said those who see it as a source of pride should be able to continue flying it.


The same Quinnipiac poll that I mentioned above found that 51 percent of Floridians see the Confederate flag as a symbol of racism versus 38 percent that see it as a symbol of southern pride. Dems would love to see Trump demonstrate that he cares more about Confederate base names than he does about funding the Pentagon.

So as I say, they’re going to insist that Warren’s amendment remain part of the final bill. The real suspense has to do with whether McConnell wants to put up a fight about that. He could try to keep the issue out of the Trump spotlight by trying to kill it in conference committee, before it passes and reaches the president’s desk, but he knows in that case that Dems will simply call him and his caucus more pro-Confederate than pro-troop instead. Or he could try to protect his caucus by leaving it in the bill and hoping/trusting that Trump will have the good sense not to veto a funding bill over it. I think that’s what he’ll do, in the hopes that knowing his veto will be overridden would be sufficiently embarrassing to Trump that he’ll back down and sign the bill grudgingly in the end.

Kayleigh McEnany was asked about Trump’s tweet at today’s White House briefing and replied by saying that the bases are defined by the men who serve at them, not the men for whom they’re named. Then why refuse to rename them?


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Dennis Prager 12:00 AM | May 22, 2024