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Kaine calls Trump's threat to veto defense bill over base renaming 'a big bluff'

By BILL ATKINSON | The Progress-Index, Petersburg, Va. | Published: December 1, 2020

WASHINGTON (Tribune News Service) — Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., said Tuesday he thinks that President Donald Trump is bluffing with his threat to veto a defense-spending bill if it includes language renaming some military posts — including Fort Lee — that memorialize Confederate heroes from the Civil War.

But if the president follows through with the veto, Kaine said he was confident there would be enough bipartisan support for the language to override it.

"He'd veto, you know, construction of subs and military pay increases all over the Confederate names. I think it's a big bluff," Kaine said in a conference call with Virginia journalists. "I don't think he's gonna do it. He probably won't have a signing ceremony like he usually does. He'll probably just let it become law, but he's not going to veto it."

Capitol lawmakers from both chambers are hammering out differences in their versions of the spending package, which range from $694 billion in the House of Representatives to $1.4 trillion in the Senate. However, both versions include language calling for the renaming of 10 Army posts across the South that currently honor Confederate heroes.

Among them are Fort Lee in Prince George County, Fort A.P. Hill in Caroline County, and Fort Pickett in Nottoway County, although Fort Pickett is managed by the Virginia Army National Guard.

The bill is expected to be sent to the White House within the next couple of weeks.

When Capitol Hill announced the language additions over the summer, Trump immediately said he would veto the entire defense package Congress sends him if the new-name language was included. NBC News reported this week that Trump has not backed down from that threat and has pushed some Republican lawmakers to get it removed.

The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the threat.

Kaine said, however, that the strong bipartisan support for the name changes in both houses would be enough to erase Trump's veto, claiming that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky has called for the name changes.

"There are maybe a few holdouts here who would vote with the president on this, but overwhelmingly Democrats and Republicans would override it, so that makes me think this is just a big bluff," Kaine said. "And we shouldn't allow this to slow us down on doing the work, but I believe we're going to get there."

Kaine was asked if there was a possibility the language could be pulled from the package before it goes to Trump's desk and separate legislation covering the name changes would be sent to the desk of President-elect Joe Biden for a far-friendlier reception. He again pointed to the strong bipartisan support for the language, saying if anyone had objected to it, then they should have proposed amendments during initial floor debate.

"Then it shouldn't be removed at the last minute because the president doesn't like it," Kaine said. He added both Capitol Hill and the White House have constitutional responsibilities to get defense spending approved.

"I don't think the job of Congress is to play 'Mother, May I?' with the president," Kaine said.

Virginia's other senator, Mark Warner, issued his own statement on Trump's threat, calling it "frankly absurd and downright dangerous" that Trump would be making such a suggestion.

"In the midst of a presidential transition, a global pandemic and growing global threats, the president should not be playing politics with our defense bill," Warner said. "The stakes are just too high.”

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