President Donald Trump vowed on Friday that military bases named for Confederate leaders “will not be changing” despite congressional momentum on the issue, another increase in tensions over the issue of Confederate symbolism in the military.
Trump’s latest tweet on the topic comes amid reports of White House anger directed at Defense Secretary Mark Esper for last week effectively banning display of the Confederate battle flag at all Defense Department sites.
CNN this week cited multiple insider sources that Trump was unhappy with Esper’s move, saying that the flag should be seen as a symbol of historic pride and not as a connection to America’s slavey past. The outlet also said the relationship between the two men is strained, but Esper’s job appears safe for now.
Pentagon officials declined comment on the report.
On Friday, Trump took to social media to announce he had been discussing the annual defense authorization bill with Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., “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!)”
I spoke to 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”.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 24, 2020
“Like me, Jim is not a believer in ‘Cancel Culture,’” the president wrote.
Sign up for the Early Bird Brief
Get the military’s most comprehensive news and information every morning
By giving us your email, you are opting in to the Early Bird Brief.
Trump has been outspoken in defense of keeping the names of Fort Hood in Texas, Fort Bragg in North Carolina and at least eight other Army posts named for Confederate leaders that have come under criticism in recent years.
Multiple times in recent weeks, he has threatened to veto any legislation passed by Congress forcing a change. That includes the annual authorization bill, which contains a host of military pay authorizations and hundreds of other defense budget policy priorities.
“President Trump has been clear in his opposition to politically motivated attempts like this to rewrite history and to displace the enduring legacy of the American Revolution with a new left-wing cultural revolution,” the White House said in a veto threat on the House bill released Tuesday.
Pressed on Friday whether the issue of base names tied to Confederate leaders tied to slavery could hurt military recruiting, White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said the names should not change because “the bases are not known for the generals they are named after, the bases are known for the heroes that served at them.”
This week, both the House and Senate advanced separate versions of the authorization bill, both containing language which would mandate the bases change names in the next few years.
The issue gained bipartisan support in both chambers, but the language still could be removed from the final compromise bill during inter-chamber negotiations in the next few weeks.
A spokesman for Inhofe said the president’s tweet “speaks for itself” and did not offer any specifics on what changes he’ll push for in the negotiations.
In an interview with the Oklahoman this week, Inhofe said of the base name change issue that “we’re going to see to it that provision doesn’t survive the bill.” He declined to give specifics how he would do that. .
Inhofe’s counterpart in the House — Armed Services Committee ranking member Mac Thornberry, R-Texas — offered alternative legislation during the committee’s mark up of the authorization bill earlier this month which would have softened timelines for a name change and allowed more community input into whether any renaming should occur.
That effort failed, and Thornberry (along with the rest of the Republicans on the committee) still voted for the final bill.
Conference negotiations are expected to begin in coming days.
About Leo Shane III
Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.