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House panel intensifies showdown with Trump over renaming of Fort Hood and other Confederate-named bases

Fort Benning (US Army/Released)

Congress is heading for a showdown with President Donald Trump over the renaming of Fort Hood in Central Texas and nine other Army bases across the South that are named after Confederate generals.

The Democrat-led House Armed Services Committee late on Wednesday voted mostly along party lines to approve a measure to mandate the scrubbing of those bases’ names within a year, just a couple weeks after the GOP-led Senate Armed Services Committee approved a similar proposal.

Trump has issued a veto threat over the effort, which both chambers have inserted into their respective versions of a broader, must-pass defense bill.

The renaming push features some bipartisan support, particularly as Confederate iconography has garnered fresh scrutiny amid the civil rights protests that have followed the killing of George Floyd, a black man who recently died in Minnesota while in police custody.

But Reps. Mac Thornberry and Mike Conaway – the two Texas Republicans on the House Armed Services Committee – were among the GOPers to vote against the measure.

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Thornberry, a Panhandle lawmaker who serves as the top Republican on the panel, said his “personal opinion is that the name of some, if not all, of these installations should be changed.” But he took issue with Congress mandating those changes, particularly in a year time frame.

“Sometimes rather than just decide ourselves and dictate to the country, if we can prod discussion, if we can encourage that sort of self-examination, it’s going to have deeper and longer lasting effects,” he said during the committee mark-up.

Thornberry offered an amendment to the renaming proposal put forth by Rep. Anthony Brown, D-Md., and Rep. Don Bacon, R-Neb.

The Texan suggested a study of whether the bases in question should renamed, rather than a mandate that they be changed. He also proposed lengthening the timeline, while also requiring more feedback from the communities that work at and live around those installations.

“To me the most powerful and desirable outcome is increased understanding and changed hearts,” he said, adding that he would like to hear from various stakeholders about what they feel when they “drive up to Fort Hood,” which is named after Confederate Gen. John Bell Hood.

Thornberry’s amendment failed, mostly along party lines.

He and Conaway – a West Texan who also personally supports renaming Fort Hood and its counterparts, per his spokeswoman – then joined all but two Republicans in voting against the idea put forth by Brown and Bacon, who are both military veterans.

But the Texans ultimately joined every committee member, both Republican and Democrat, in voting for the overarching defense bill that now contains the renaming mandate. The House bill was named in honor of Thornberry, who is retiring after 13 terms in Congress.

Two Texas Democrats – Reps. Veronica Escobar of El Paso and Filemon Vela of Brownsville – were among those who voted to require the renaming of Fort Hood and others like it. Escobar was cited for playing a role in helping craft the measure.

Brown, the Maryland Democrat, said the Confederate generals for which those bases were named “belong in the trash heap of history.”

“Our military will no longer honor traitors who fought for slavery & white supremacy; men who wouldn’t want me to serve in uniform let alone in Congress,” he wrote on Twitter.

The House version will have be reconciled with the Senate proposal, which was offered by Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., and which would provide a three-year timeline to remove from Defense Department assets all names and displays that honor the Confederacy.

Even before the House proposal earned committee approval, Trump had vowed to veto the Senate version.

“I will Veto the Defense Authorization Bill if the Elizabeth ‘Pocahontas’ Warren (of all people!) Amendment, which will lead to the renaming … of Fort Bragg, Fort Robert E. Lee, and many other Military Bases from which we won Two World Wars, is in the Bill!” he wrote on Twitter.

The president has more broadly sought to protect monuments to Confederate officials and other historical figures, describing it as a “battle to save the Heritage, History, and Greatness of our Country!”

Correction, 10:58 a.m. on July 2, 2020: An earlier version of this story incorrectly said that Rep. Mike Conaway doesn’t support renaming Fort Hood and other Army bases named after Confederate generals. His spokeswoman said he personally supports their renaming, though he voted against a measure that would mandate such action.

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© 2020 The Dallas Morning News