Congress Likely to Override Trump Veto on Changing Army Base Names, Key Lawmaker Says

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Trump speaks during a briefing at U.S. Southern Command headquarters
President Donald Trump speaks during a briefing at U.S. Southern Command headquarters in Doral, Florida, July 10, 2020. (Photo by Michael C. Dougherty, U.S. Southern Command Public Affairs)

Congress likely has the votes to override President Donald Trump's threatened veto of the entire defense policy bill over a provision that would change the names of Army bases honoring Confederate generals, according to a top member of the House Armed Services Committee.

"I think the president is going to be hard-pressed to veto over that issue," said Rep. Anthony Brown, D-Maryland, a retired Army colonel and committee vice chair.

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The provision would strip the Confederate names of at least 10 Army posts, including Fort Bragg in North Carolina, Fort Hood in Texas, and Fort Benning in Georgia.

Congress has been unable to override a veto, which requires a two-thirds vote in the House and Senate, since Trump has been in office, but "this may very well be the first that we would override," Brown said at a July 31 virtual forum hosted by Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Trump has repeatedly threatened to veto the proposed $740 billion National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal 2021 over the provision. The bill includes a 3% pay raise for the military.

In a June 30 Twitter post, Trump said he would veto legislation "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."

The House version of the NDAA would change the names within one year, while the Senate version gave three years to change the names. Brown said he expects a compromise provision to change the names to emerge from a House-Senate conference committee to come up with a unified version of the NDAA.

In his 30-year Army career, Brown said he served at several of the bases in question but was unaware that they were named for Confederate generals to "memorialize this 'Lost Cause' of the failure of the South in the Civil War."

He said troops now in the military are "much more aware of these things," particularly in the aftermath of the Black Lives Matter protests nationwide.

Brown also praised moves by the Marine Corps and the Navy to ban displays of the Confederate flag on bases. He urged Defense Secretary Mark Esper to revise his own military-wide policy that omitted the Confederate flag from a list of flags approved for display.

In a July 16 memo, Esper said the only flags approved for display on bases are the U.S. flag; the flags of states and territories; the POW-MIA flag; those of allied countries; unit flags; senior leader flags; and flags flown for protocol purposes.

In a letter to Esper released Friday, Brown joined with more than 30 other House members in pressing for an explicit ban on the display of the Confederate flag and a policy change to allow the display of the sovereign nation flags of Native Americans and the LGBTQ pride flag.

"The implicit banning of these symbols of diversity and inclusion runs counter to our ideals as a nation and a military," the letter to Esper said.

The Defense Department "must have the strength and courage to be able to simultaneously stand against a symbol of hate and oppression in the Confederate Battle Flag while allowing the display of support for civil rights, equity, and justice," the letter states.

-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.

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