President Donald Trump would veto the annual defense policy bill if it included language renaming any military bases named for Confederate generals after Union generals — or anyone else, for that matter.
White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany confirmed that after Trump said in a statement handed out in the briefing room (as well as on Twitter) that he is outright rejecting the idea of renaming "as many as 10 of our Legendary Military Bases, such as Fort Bragg in North Carolina, Fort Hood in Texas, Fort Benning in Georgia, etc."
Those bases are all named for Confederate generals.
"The United States of America trained and deployed our HEROES on these hallowed grounds, and won two World Wars," Trump said in the statement. "Therefore, my Administration will not even consider the renaming of these Magnificent and Fabled Military Installations."
Trump's announcement comes as the nation's race relations are in the hot spotlight. Protesters in dozens of cities across the country, including outside Trump's own front door, are pushing for major policing overhauls in the wake of the May 25 killing of George Floyd, an African American man, by a Minneapolis police officer.
The administration's aggressive response to the protests, including erecting blocks of fencing around the White House, deploying the National Guard and gassing mostly peaceful protesters in Lafayette Square last week, has drawn sharp criticisms from Democrats, a few Republicans, retired military leaders and former administration officials.
On Wednesday afternoon, streets near the White House were blocked by Metropolitan Police as far north as Farragut Square, about two blocks from the White House grounds.
Among those most critical of Trump was his first Defense secretary, Jim Mattis, a retired four-star Marine general.
McEnany framed the effort to rename U.S. military installations as offensive to servicemen and women who died in combat after deploying from the military bases in question.
"He does … fervently stand against the renaming of our forts, these great American fortresses where literally some of these men and women who lost their lives, as they went out to Europe and Afghanistan and Iraq, and all across this world, to win world wars on behalf of freedom, a lot of times the very last place they saw was one of these forts," McEnany said.
Asked specifically about what would happen if Congress sent over a defense authorization including language renaming bases for Union generals, McEnany said that would also be unacceptable to the president.
"The president will not be signing legislation that renames America's forts," McEnany said. "Fort Bragg, for example, it's one of the largest military installations. It's home to tens of thousands of brave American soldiers, and when you think of Fort Bragg, we think of the brave soldiers that deployed from there."
The press secretary specifically cited the first African American parachute division as having trained at the North Carolina base, the 555th Parachute Infantry Battalion.
"We've got to honor what has happened there, not rename it," McEnany said of Fort Bragg in particular.
The Senate Armed Services Committee is considering the fiscal 2021 defense policy bill at the committee level this week, with most of the debate taking place behind closed doors.
The House Armed Services Committee, where this issue is more likely to become a flashpoint, will debate its version of the measure in a marathon session July 1.