Senate votes through Defense Act with huge majority and dares Donald Trump to veto move

The Senate passed the National Defense Authorization Act by huge margins Friday, daring President Donald Trump to veto the legislation that gives a pay raise to the troops, but also strips Confederate names from military bases. 

The final vote was 84 for the bill and just 13 against. 

Among those who voted no were prominent Republicans and Democrats, including Sens. Tom Cotton and Josh Hawley – expected to compete for their party’s nomination in 20204 – as well as Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders and Cory Booker, who ran for president earlier this year. 

Sanders explained in a tweet that he was against a bloated military budget. 

‘I will be voting against the Defense Appropriations bill. We need to get our priorities right. At a time when we have enormous unmet needs in our country we should not be spending $740 billion on the military – more than the next 10 nations combined,’ Sanders wrote in a Thursday tweet.  

Vice President-elect Kamala Harris, a California senator, returned to Capitol Hill so she could vote for the legislation.  

The Senate voted overwhelmingly for a defense bill Friday that President Donald Trump has threatened to veto, in a vote 84-13 

President Donald Trump has said he will veto the National Defense Authorization Act - first over plans to strip Confederate names from military bases and then over section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which he says gives too much protection to 'big tech'

President Donald Trump has said he will veto the National Defense Authorization Act – first over plans to strip Confederate names from military bases and then over section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which he says gives too much protection to ‘big tech’

Vice President-elect Kamala Harris returned to Capitol Hill Friday to first vote for a large defense bill that would strip the names of Confederates from military bases

Vice President-elect Kamala Harris returned to Capitol Hill Friday to first vote for a large defense bill that would strip the names of Confederates from military bases 

Bases like Fort Lee - named after Confederate General Robert E. Lee - will be renamed as spelled out by a process articulated in the bill

Bases like Fort Lee – named after Confederate General Robert E. Lee – will be renamed as spelled out by a process articulated in the bill 

Sen. Bernie Sanders was among the prominent no votes, saying he was against the defense bill 'at a time when we have enormous unmet needs in our country'

Sen. Bernie Sanders was among the prominent no votes, saying he was against the defense bill ‘at a time when we have enormous unmet needs in our country’ 

Sanders put out a tweet Thursday evening saying he planned to vote against the bill, however it still passed with a veto-proof majority

Sanders put out a tweet Thursday evening saying he planned to vote against the bill, however it still passed with a veto-proof majority 

Trump has threatened to veto the defense bill, most recently calling on lawmakers to make changes to section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which protects so-called ‘big tech,’ like Facebook and Twitter from being held liable for what’s posted on their sites. 

Prior to focusing on section 230, Trump said he would veto the package because of the provision included in it to change the names of the 10 bases still named after Confederate generals. 

With 84 senators voting for the bill, the Senate should have no problem overriding a veto. Two-thirds of the Senate is needed to do so. 

Trump leaned in to culture war themes after the Memorial Day death of George Floyd, which reinvigorated the Black Lives Matter movement. 

On June 10, he tweeted out a statement and had White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany come out to the podium and read it.  

‘These Monumental and very Powerful Bases have become part of a Great American Heritage, and a history of Winning, Victory, and Freedom,’ Trump said.  ‘The United States of America trained and deployed our HEROES on these Hallowed Grounds, and won two World Wars.’ 

‘Therefore, my Administration will not even consider the renaming of these Magnificent and Fabled Military Installations,’ Trump said. 

Black Lives Matter activists have encouraged the removal of Confederate statues and relics, because those southerners tried to keep black people enslaved and fought the Civil War over it. 

Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy had told Politico he was ‘open’ to renaming the 10 bases named for Confederate figures. Floyd’s death and the subsequent Black Lives Matter protests, motivated McCarthy’s change of heart, one Army official told Politico.   

On June 30, Trump made his first veto threat after Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who ran for the 2020 Democratic nomination, inserted the provision to rename the bases into the bill.

It passed with bipartisan consensus, but was a voice vote – meaning there’s no record of which Republicans defected from Trump’s position. 

Trump angrily tweeted about it then.   

‘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 wrote.  

The bill still passed the House and Senate overwhelmingly. In the Senate the rally was 86 to 14, while in the House it was 295 to 125.  

After the election, Trump continued to say he would veto the bill over the Confederate base provision. 

NBC News reported in late November that Trump told Republican lawmakers that he planned to keep his campaign promise to supporters and veto the bill. 

‘He’s said that,’ a senior administration official told NBC News, confirming the conversations. 

While some Republicans argued that the provision should be stripped to avoid the veto, Democrats held firm.   

Thirty-seven Democratic senators penned a letter to Inhofe and other GOP leaders on November 10. 

‘Millions of servicemembers of color have lived on, trained at, and deployed from installations named to honor traitors that killed Americans in defense of chattel slavery,’ they wrote. 

‘Renaming these bases does not disrespect our military – it honors the sacrifices and contributions of our servicemembers in a way that better reflects our nation’s diversity and values,’ the Democrats argued. ‘We know who these bases were named for and why they were named.’

‘It is long past the time to correct this longstanding, historic injustice,’ they added. ‘We must not shrink from our solemn duty in his moment.’ 

Ex-Defense Secretary Mark Esper was quietly working with Congress to rename the bases. 

He was sacked by Trump six days after the election, marking the president’s first major firing after his loss.        

THE 10 BASES NAMED FOR CONFEDERATE GENERALS

Camp Beauregard, Louisiana

National Guard training facility. Initially named Camp Stafford. Renamed for Confederate general P. G. T. Beauregard in 1917

Beauregard was West Point superintendent when his native Louisiana seceded in 1861 but quit to join the rebels, firing the first shots at Fort Sumter and commanding them at Shiloh. He advised surrender in 1865. Unusually advocated integration in later life.

Fort Benning, Alabama/Georgia 

‘Home of the Infantry.’ Named in 1917 for plantation owner Henry L. Benning, who argued for secession from 1849, and railed against ‘black governors, black legislatures, black juries, black everything.’ No military experience but rose to general and was one of the last to surrender at the ceremony at Appomattox Court House.

Fort Bragg, North Carolina

Home of Special Operations Command. Named for General Braxton Bragg when it opened in 1918

Slaveowner former U.S. Army officer who joined the Confederates and rose to general but oversaw a string of defeats, culminating in Chattanooga when he resigned. Widely disliked by his men for his quick temper and obsession with discipline; historians have said his losses were a key part in Grant’s victory. 

 Fort Gordon, Georgia

Base for Army Signal Corps and Cyber Corps. Named for Major General John Brown Gordon when it opened in 1917

Despite no military training Gordon rose to major general, on the back of personal courage and tactical ability. Led the last charge of the Army of Northern Virginia at Appomattox. Generally – but not definitively – acknowledged as the KKK’s leader in Georgia, then anti-Reconstruction governor and senator. Died in 1904 hailed as ‘the living embodiment of the Confederacy.’

Fort A.P. Hill, Virginia

Training and maneuver center. Named for General A.P. Hill when it opened in 1940

Hill was a career Army officer who quit just before Virginia seceded and immediately joined its forces. Distinguished brigade and division commander but blamed as Third  Corps commander for part of the Gettysburg defeat and lead the rebel retreat. Killed in action a week before the Confederate surrender, after saying he did not want to outlive the Confederacy.

Fort Hood, Texas

Headquarters of III Corps. Named on opening in 1942 for General John Bell Hood

Kentucky native Hood resigned his Army commission and volunteered for the Confederates in Texas, quickly becoming brigadier-general but failed as an army commander and was relieved of command after defeat at Nashville. 

Fort Lee, Virginia

Headquarters of Combined Arms Support Command. Named on opening as a camp in 1917 for General Robert E. Lee

Slaveowner Lee, the Army’s most brilliant officer, turned down a Union command to join the rebels despite opposing secession. He had victories in the Seven Days Battles and the second Bull Run, but led the rebels to the pivotal defeat at Gettysburg. Held off Grant from complete victory then personally surrendered at Appomattox as General in Chief. After the war backed the end of slavery but said black people ‘lack intelligence.’

Fort Pickett, Virginia  

National Guard training site. Named for Major General George Pickett on opening in 1941

Pickett, raised on a plantation, resigned his Army commission a month after joining the Confederacy. Best known for the bloodbath of Pickett’s Charge which led to defeat at Gettysburg, he also ordered 22 Union soldiers executed after defeat at New Bern, North Carolina. Fled to Canada for a year after Confederate defeat fearing he would be prosecuted for the crime. His wife’s hagiography of him was a key part of the ‘Lost Cause’ movement of the 1890s onward – which itself led to the bases’ Confederate names.

Fort Polk, Louisiana 

Home of the Joint Readiness Training Center. Named on opening in 1941 for General (and bishop) Leonidas Polk

Polk quit a brief Army career to become an Episcopal priest but was estimated to have as many as 400 slaves in the 1850s. So keen on secession that he set up a Confederate church, his brief military experience earned him commission as major-general. Led troops at a series of defeats including Shiloh and was regarded as a poor tactician disliked by those he led. Killed by shellfire at Atlanta after being spotted personally by Sherman.

Fort Rucker, Alabama 

Home to Army Aviation Center of Excellence. Renamed from Ozark Triangular Division Camp in 1942 for Brigadier General Edmund Rucker

Rucker volunteered as a private and rose quickly, playing a key role at the Confederate victory at Chickamauga but was captured and freed in a prisoner swap organized by Nathan Bedford Forrest. Was with Forrest when Union prisoners were systematically massacred at Pillow Hill, and worked with him after surrender, when Forrest established the KKK.

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