(CNN) — Republican leaders acknowledged Thursday that they are in a difficult spot after the GOP-led Senate Armed Services Committee adopted an amendment behind closed doors for the Pentagon to remove the names of Confederate generals from military assets within three years — just as President Donald Trump vowed to fight any such effort.
Asked if taking out the Confederate amendment would be politically problematic from a public relations-standpoint, Senate Majority Whip John Thune acknowledged Thursday that it would be difficult.
“Well, I mean, if it’s in the base bill coming out of the committee, then yeah,” the South Dakota Republican told reporters. “It’s obviously a heavy lift if we take anything out of the bill … so, we’ll see where that discussion goes. Like I said, I’ve seen what the President had said. I was not aware of that in there.”
What adds more complication for Republicans is the fact that the defense authorization bill has been approved by Congress each year for the past 59 years — so it will undoubtedly add pressure for lawmakers to resolve the sticking point in order to pass the sweeping policy bill for the 60th straight year.
The amendment, offered by Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, defines assets as property owned or controlled by the Pentagon, whether it’s a base, installation, facility, aircraft, ship, plane or type of equipment. The amendment would create an independent commission to review and develop a detailed plan for removing the names. The amendment was adopted by voice vote.
The move came as Trump rejected calls to remove the name of Confederate generals from military bases, citing American heritage, and the White House threatened to veto any bill that did such that.
The amendment was added to the annual defense authorization bill, and it could still be stripped out as it makes its way through the legislative process. If Trump were to veto such a bill, it would be a big risk given the popular defense measure sets policy for the Pentagon.
The amendment’s adoption was first reported by Roll Call.
Army installations named after Confederate leaders include Fort Bragg in North Carolina, Fort Hood in Texas and Fort A.P. Hill in Virginia. Army bases across the country have continued to bear the names of Confederate military commanders even amid intense external pressure to rename them.
CNN reported earlier this week that US Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy and Secretary of Defense Mark Esper are said to be open to holding a “bipartisan conversation” about renaming nearly a dozen major bases and installations that bear the names of Confederate military commanders, according to an Army official.
Peaceful protests calling for justice and a reckoning with racial inequality have dominated the US in the wake of George Floyd’s death at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer, prompting many to reconsider the status quo, including the widespread use of Confederate military leader names and symbols.
Senate Armed Services Chairman Jim Inhofe, a Republican from Oklahoma, told reporters on a conference call Thursday that he had differences with the Democrats on the issue and that he wanted “local communities, cities, the towns, the states, to participate in whether or not they want to do this,” and that the inclusion of the amendment was “the first step.”
“We’ve got a long ways to go on that issue,” Inhofe said.
The ranking Democrat on the committee, Sen. Jack Reed of Rhode Island, who was on the same conference call as Inhofe, agreed that the amendment was a “first step.”
“I think what we saw yesterday was a very thoughtful process and a bipartisan process of taking a very complicated and difficult issue and putting in place a commission that will have a three year period of operation,” Reed said. “That will carefully look at all the aspects of this issue, and will also be able to engage local communities who have an interest in the names of these facilities and conclude after that process a way to rename these facilities in a such a fashion that we do our best to maintain, I think, our fidelity to the Constitution and to the principles that govern the country.”
Republican Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri, a member of the Armed Services Committee, told reporters Thursday he opposes an amendment to remove Confederate names from military assets, saying it’s not the way to “deal with that history.”
“I oppose the amendment, I voted no on it. And I spoke against it in the committee and voiced my reservations for it,” Hawley said.