There are 10 Army posts named for Confederate generals. While the House’s bill seeks to push the Pentagon to make the name changes within a year, the Senate’s bill — which is still under consideration — extends the deadline to three years.
The White House objection made no mention of the timetable. It rejected the notion of any such mandate.
The Senate has yet to pass its version of the defense bill. But on Wednesday, it voted to end the debate period for amendments without accommodating a measure from Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) that sought to strip the legislation’s requirement to rename the bases and replace it with a pledge to study the matter instead.
It is unlikely that Hawley’s amendment would have secured enough votes to pass, as there is bipartisan support in the Senate for insisting that the Pentagon make the ordered name changes. Yet it is noteworthy that Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman James M. Inhofe (R-Okla.), who has voiced support for preserving the base names, did not try to force the issue.
It is exceedingly possible that the final defense bill — which the House and Senate will have to negotiate over the next several weeks — will include some form of a mandate to strip the Confederate names from military bases, setting up a potential showdown between Congress and the White House.
On other matters, however, it is not yet clear whether Congress will similarly try to call the White House’s veto bluff.
The House’s bill includes a bipartisan-approved provision to restrict the president’s ability to withdraw 9,500 U.S. troops stationed in Germany, as Trump stated last month that he would do. But the Senate ended debate on amendments Wednesday without voting on a similar bipartisan proposal from Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) that had also earned the support of Sens. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), both influential GOP voices on foreign policy.
Romney was one of only 13 senators to vote against ending debate on amendments Wednesday, in protest of his amendment not getting a vote — though he said in a statement that he would vote for final passage of the defense bill.
It is still possible that the provision could appear in the final compromise defense bill, however. Inhofe and Senate Armed Services Committee ranking minority-party member Jack Reed (D-R.I.) have expressed personal opposition to the planned troop withdrawal, and the other two principal negotiators — House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith (D-Wash.) and ranking minority-party member Mac Thornberry (R-Tex.) — voted for the restriction.
It is also still unclear how fiercely Trump will stick to his veto threat. Presidents have often threatened to veto defense bills in the past — former president Barack Obama even made good on one such threat, in 2015, in the midst of a spending dispute. But the annual defense bill has passed Congress for each of the past 59 years.
Smith guessed earlier this month that the defense bill will probably not be completed until November, making the outcome of the 2020 election — and any potential transfers of power in Washington it heralds — a potential factor in 11th-hour negotiations and veto determinations.