Trump threatens to veto military funding over Confederate issue

Trump has publicly threatened to veto a massive military bill in order to protect the names of Confederate generals. Dems are daring him to follow through.
Image: Pentagon
An aerial view of the Pentagon building in Washington on Dec. 26, 2011.Dan De LUCE / AFP - Getty Images file
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By Steve Benen

For many years, several U.S. military bases and installations have been named after Confederate military leaders -- which is tough to defend given the fact that they took up arms against the United States. With this in mind, U.S. Army leaders recently opened the door to renaming the facilities after Americans.

Donald Trump tried to slam that door shut last month, insisting he would "not even consider" renaming military bases that honor Confederate leaders. The president added that naming the bases after Confederates reflects "a history of Winning, Victory, and Freedom" -- suggesting he may not understand the Civil War as well he as probably should.

Congress proceeded to ignore Trump's posturing and added a provision to a massive defense spending bill known as the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that would rename the bases over the course of the next three years. In a rare display of bipartisanship on a hot-button issue, the Republican-led Senate Armed Services Committee agreed to the change last month.

All of which led the president to go out on a risky limb.

President Donald Trump threatened ... to veto a national defense bill the Senate is considering if an amendment from Sen. Elizabeth Warren to rename military bases honoring the Confederacy is not removed.

NBC News' Jonathan Allen added, "President Donald Trump gave the Republicans in Congress a tough choice Tuesday night: vote to honor leaders of the Confederacy, or vote against him."

Because the president remains unfamiliar with how the legislative process works, and because he's quick to make threats without a plan for success, Trump probably doesn't know that it would take 60 votes in the Senate to remove the provision of the pending NDAA that he doesn't like. What are the odds that 60 senators will scrap the measure just to satisfy the White House? Roughly zero.

Indeed, Politico reported yesterday that Senate Republicans are planning to continue with the existing bill, working from the assumption that the president is bluffing.

As best as I can tell, Democrats have come to the same conclusion, though party leaders apparently wouldn't mind if Trump kept his promise and vetoed the defense bill. After all, this is a massive piece of legislation that includes, among other things, resources for the military and a pay raise for American troops.

If the president wants to veto this in an election year, all in the hopes of championing the names of those who went to war against the United States, Dems on Capitol Hill will be more than pleased to watch Trump hurt himself.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) yesterday went so far as to literally dare the president to follow through on his own posturing.

But wouldn't a presidential veto risk hurting the military? Probably not: Trump's veto would probably be overridden by Congress. Even Senate Republicans don't see much value in having this fight.

What's extraordinary is how Trump left himself in this position for no reason. If he keeps his commitment and vetoes the NDAA in order to champion the names of Confederate generals, the president will look ridiculous. If he retreats, Trump will look weak and feckless, making a very public threat before backing down.

A strategic mastermind he isn't.