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Sen. Inhofe is blocking efforts to rename Army bases that honor Confederate generals, Democrats say

Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla, attends a hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington on March 26, 2019.

CARLOS BONGIOANNI/STARS AND STRIPES

By STEVE BEYNON | STARS AND STRIPES Published: November 19, 2020

WASHINGTON — Oklahoma Republican Jim Inhofe, the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, is attempting to block efforts to rename 10 Army bases that honor Confederate generals causing a slowdown of negotiations on Capitol Hill to approve the 2020 National Defense Authorization Act, two staffers for Senate Democrats said Wednesday.

"Chairman Inhofe's 11th-hour demand at the behest of outgoing President [Donald] Trump threatens troop pay raises and billions in funding for new military equipment in order to continue glorifying Confederate soldiers at U.S. military bases,” said a Democratic aide, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

The issue of renaming Army bases hit a boiling point during the summer amid nationwide protests over racial inequality and police brutality. It picked up momentum when senior military leaders such as then-Defense Secretary Mark Esper and Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy backed the idea. The Senate and House then passed versions of the NDAA, which sets funding and policy priorities for the Pentagon each year, each with a provision to rename the bases.

Now a committee of House members and senators are negotiating a compromise version of the bill to send to the president to sign into law. However, Trump has threatened to veto the bill over provisions to remove Confederate names from military bases.

Inhofe’s office did not respond this week to a request for comment, but the senator’s position on renaming the bases was telegraphed months ago.

In July, Inhofe told his home state newspaper, The Oklahoman, that he spoke to Trump about the measures to rename bases and predicted it would be removed from a compromise defense bill.

"We’re going to see to it that provision doesn’t survive the bill," Inhofe told the paper.

In a July tweet, Trump wrote he was relying on Inhofe to block the effort.

“I spoke to the highly respected (Chairman) Senator @JimInhofe, who has informed me that he WILL NOT be changing the names of our great Military Bases and Forts, places from which we won two World Wars (and more!). Like me, Jim is not a believer in ‘Cancel Culture’.”

The 10 Army posts named in honor of Confederate generals are Camp Beauregard and Fort Polk in Louisiana; Fort Benning and Fort Gordon in Georgia; Fort Bragg in North Carolina; Fort A.P. Hill, Fort Lee and Fort Pickett in Virginia; Fort Rucker in Alabama, and Fort Hood in Texas. The installations were named primarily during the south’s Jim Crow era in the 1910s and 1940s.

“[President] Donald Trump and some Republicans’ ongoing effort to block our military from taking this long overdue step forward, which passed with bipartisan support earlier this year, is disgraceful. It's time our armed services respect Black service members and all Black Americans by finally renaming the bases named after those who took up arms against the United States to keep Black Americans in chains,” said Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee and an Army veteran.

The House and Senate amendments to rename Confederate-named installations differ. The House version forces the Army to remove such names within one year of the NDAA becoming law, while the Senate version would require the creating a commission to study the issue with the goal of stripping Confederate names within three years.

However, Rep. Mac Thornberry of Texas, the ranking Republican on the House Armed Services Committee, said Tuesday that he expects skirmishes with the NDAA to be resolved shortly. But he suggested the Confederate issue could be the biggest snag.

“Everyone knew the base naming was going to be controversial — especially if one side says ‘I have to have it this way,’ and the other side says, ‘I have to have it this way.’ Somewhere there's got to be some give or compromise and, frankly, a lot of that decision is going to be made above our pay grade,” Thornberry said.

Yet Thornberry, who is retiring, said the renaming of the bases is something President-elect Joe Biden will tackle regardless, and removing the measure from the NDAA would prevent a fight with Trump over military funding.

“Just to say what everybody knows, the incoming Biden administration is going to deal with the base naming issues anyway,” he said. “So, really what we're down to is whether it has to be in this bill, just this way and that whether that would provoke a veto.”

beynon.steven@stripes.com
Twitter: @StevenBeynon