Key senators predict victory over Trump in renaming military facilities honoring Confederates

Dems want Cass statue removed at Capitol

President Donald J. Trump addresses his remarks at the tree planting ceremony in honor of Earth and Arbor Day Wednesday, April 22, 2020, on the South Lawn of the White House. | Official White House Photo by Andrea Hanks via Flickr Public Domain

WASHINGTON — Key U.S. senators are preparing for battle with the White House over renaming military facilities that honor Confederates — and they’re expecting to win.

U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine, a Virginia Democrat who backs the effort, said he believes the GOP-controlled Senate would override a possible presidential veto of a defense policy bill that would begin a process to rename the facilities. Doing so would require support from two-thirds of those voting.

“I think we need to put it on his desk,” Kaine said. “If he were to veto this bill, I think we would override it.”

Kaine said support for the amendment is “very strong” among Republicans in both chambers of Congress. The Senate Armed Services Committee approved the amendment by voice vote, a procedure that’s generally used for measures that have broad bipartisan support, and Kaine noted that only one senator voted against it at the time.

U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley, a high ranking Republican from Iowa, predicted that Congress would “probably” override a possible veto, according to The Hill. Iowa’s junior senator, Republican Joni Ernst, told Black leaders in Des Moines on Friday, that she also supports renaming the bases. “I could care a whit if we keep those names because those were Confederate generals,” Ernst said.

Trump won’t ‘even consider’ push to rename bases honoring Confederates

And Senate Majority Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) urged President Donald Trump to “reconsider” vetoing the bill in an interview with Fox News, noting that it includes pay raises for troops.

Republicans hold 53 seats — or 53% — in the U.S. Senate. Democrats hold 233 seats — about 54% — in the U.S. House.

Offered by Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, the amendment would begin a three-year process to remove from military property the names, symbols, displays, monuments and other paraphernalia that honor or commemorate the Confederacy and those who voluntarily served it.

The nation is home to 10 major Army bases named for Confederate generals: three in Virginia, two in Georgia, two in Louisiana and one each in Alabama, North Carolina and Texas.

The amendment passed during a closed-door markup of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), a measure that authorizes federal funding for the U.S. Department of Defense and other national security programs through fiscal year 2021. The “must pass” legislation has cleared Congress 59 years in a row and is on course to hit the 60-year mark this fall.

If the amendment becomes law, it would be a major victory for the movement for racial justice and equality, which has intensified in the wake of the death of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man who died while in police custody.

George Floyd’s brother: ‘Make sure that he is more than another face on a T-shirt’ 

Trump slammed the amendment after it passed and then threatened to veto the $740 billion defense bill because of it.

“I will Veto the Defense Authorization Bill if the Elizabeth “Pocahontas” Warren (of all people!) Amendment, 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, is in the Bill!” Trump said in a tweet.

Senators will resume debate on the bill after they return from their two-week July Fourth recess. Some senators have filed amendments that would soften or change the amendment’s base language in the bill, Kaine said. “But I don’t think they’ll get 60 votes, so I think the provision as is in the Senate will stick.”

House bill

The U.S. House marked up its own version of the bill earlier this month. An amendment to rename military installations passed along party lines, and the overall bill was reported unanimously out of the committee, said Ralph Jones, Jr., a spokesperson for Rep. Donald McEachin, a Virginia Democrat.

The House version requires the Defense Department to identify, report on a process and change the names of all military bases and infrastructure named for individuals who served in the Confederacy within one year, Jones said — two years less than the Senate version.

The effort comes as tributes to Confederates are coming down across the country.

After right-wing protesters carried Confederate flags, GOP senator’s mask draws ire

On Thursday, McEachin introduced legislation that would direct heads of the Defense and Veterans Affairs Departments to inventory and study works on federal lands that commemorate Confederates on flags, symbols, signs, statues or plaques.

“Our public lands play a vital role in capturing the historical and cultural stories that shape our nation’s history and identity, and these lands help facilitate the national narrative of the American Civil War,” McEachin wrote in a letter to colleagues urging support for the bill. “Despite the significant role public lands play in our education and reflection of the War, we do not have a complete picture of what Confederate commemorative works exist on these lands.”

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) ordered the removal of four portraits of former House speakers — two from Georgia, one from Virginia and one from South Carolina — who served as Confederate leaders.

Last month, Pelosi called for the removal of 11 statues in the U.S. Capitol that represent Confederate soldiers and officials. Mississippi has sent two to represent its state, and nine other states — Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia and West Virginia — have sent one, according to The Hill.

Pelosi asked a joint congressional committee to direct the Architect of the Capitol to take immediate steps to remove the statues, which states selected to represent them in Congress. The statues, she wrote in a letter to the committee chairs, “pay homage to hate, not heritage.”

McConnell, however, has said the decision to remove statues should be left to states. The effort to rename military facilities is “quite different from trying to airbrush the Capitol of every statue,” he told Fox News last week.

Whitmer: Protestors’ swastikas, Confederate flags, nooses, automatic rifles don’t represent Michigan

House Democrats are also preparing for a vote to remove a marble bust in the U.S. Capitol of Roger Taney, a former chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, and replace it with a bust of Justice Thurgood Marshall, the first Black justice on the high court.

Taney wrote the court’s decision in the 1857 Dred Scott case, which held that Black people could not be citizens of the United States, that Black residents were “so far inferior that they had no rights which the white man was bound to respect,” and that enslaved people were considered property under the U.S. Constitution.

The Dred Scott decision in effect extended the institution of slavery throughout the country and set the country down a path that inexorably led to the Civil War.

Marshall, on the other hand, was the founder and executive director of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund and led many successful legal challenges that began to dismantle racial segregation in the Jim Crow era. His most famous victory was the landmark Brown v. Board of Education, which called for the integration of schools and marked the end of the Supreme Court’s “separate but equal” doctrine that undergirded many segregationist policies for more than half a century.

“I have long believed that it is past time to remove the bust of Roger Brooke Taney from public display in the U.S. Capitol building,” said U.S. Rep. Steny Hoyer of Maryland, the No. 2 Democrat in the House. “Justice Taney’s opinion in the Dred Scott Supreme Court case is one of the worst decisions to ever come out of the court, and the reckoning our nation has faced in the past few weeks further illustrates the need to take this action.”

Dems want Cass statue removed

Another battle is brewing in the Capitol over the statue of Lewis Cass, the Michigan territorial governor, U.S. senator and U.S. secretary of state. He also owned a slave implemented a policy known as “Trail of Tears” that forcibly removed Native Americans from their tribal lands.

Whitmer renames Lewis Cass Building ‘Elliott-Larsen Building’

Every state is allotted two statues in the Capitol. Michigan has Cass and former President Gerald Ford. The Michigan Democratic congressional delegation last month came out in favor of removing the Cass statue, which was given to the National Statuary Hall Collection by Michigan in 1889.

The delegation is composed of U.S. Sens. Debbie Stabenow (D-Lansing) and Gary Peters (D-Bloomfield Twp.), and U.S. Reps. Dan Kildee (D-Flint), Debbie Dingell (D-Dearborn), Brenda Lawrence (D-Southfield), Andy Levin (D-Bloomfield Twp.), Elissa Slotkin (D-Holly), Haley Stevens (D-Rochester Hills) and Rashida Tlaib (D-Detroit).

“As Michiganders, we respect our state’s history while acknowledging that our past has many painful chapters. We owe it to ourselves, and future generations, to constantly pursue a more inclusive society, where all Michiganders feel welcome and respected,” the lawmakers said. “We believe that when it comes to statues on display in the U.S. Capitol, they should represent the best of our state. Our State Legislature should act to replace the statue of Lewis Cass.”

Michigan Senate Democrats back the Cass statue being removed.

Don’t count on a name change for Cass Tech High School

“Those who are chosen to represent our great state in the hallowed space of Statuary Hall should embody the very best of our history, society and ideals,” state Senate Minority Leader Jim Ananich (D-Flint) said. “A former slave owner is not that. Michigan’s history is full of brave civil rights activists, Native American leaders and innovators who would much better reflect our state’s values as we hold them today.”

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer last month ordered a state building named for Cass to be renamed the “Elliott-Larsen Building,” honoring the legislators who sponsored Michigan’s landmark civil rights act sponsored by state Reps. Melvin Larsen (R-Oxford) and Daisy Elliott (D-Detroit).

A Detroit street, Michigan county and Cass Technical High School also were named after Cass.

 States Newsroom Washington correspondent Daniel C. Vock contributed to this story.

Allison Stevens
Allison Stevens is a reporter for States Newsroom's Washington, D.C. bureau.
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Susan J. Demas is a 19-year journalism veteran and one of the state’s foremost experts on Michigan politics, appearing on MSNBC, CNN, NPR and WKAR-TV’s “Off the Record.” In addition to serving as Editor-in-Chief, she is the Advance’s chief columnist, writing on women, LGBTQs, the state budget, the economy and more. Most recently, she served as Vice President of Farough & Associates, Michigan’s premier political communications firm. For almost five years, Susan was the Editor and Publisher of Inside Michigan Politics, the most-cited political newsletter in the state. Susan’s award-winning political analysis has run in more than 80 national, international and regional media outlets, including the Guardian U.K., NBC News, the New York Times, the Detroit News and MLive. She is the only Michigan journalist to be named to the Washington Post’s list of “Best Political Reporters,” the Huffington Post’s list of “Best Political Tweeters” and the Washington Post’s list of “Best Political Bloggers.” Susan was the recipient of a prestigious Knight Foundation fellowship in nonprofits and politics. She served as Deputy Editor for MIRS News and helped launch the Michigan Truth Squad, the Center for Michigan’s fact-checking project. She started her journalism career reporting on the Iowa caucuses for The (Cedar Rapids) Gazette. Susan has hiked over 3,000 solo miles across four continents and climbed more than 60 mountains. She also enjoys dragging her husband and two teenagers along, even if no one else wants to sleep in a tent anymore.