Trump tries to partner with Inhofe to protect Confederate names

Is it possible Inhofe will somehow alter the NDAA to satisfy Trump? Yes. Is it likely given the broad, bipartisan support for making this change? No.
Image: The entrance to Fort Bragg, N.C.
The entrance to Fort Bragg, N.C.Chris Seward / AP file
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By Steve Benen

It was several weeks ago when Congress added a provision to a massive defense spending bill known as the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that would rename military bases named after Confederate leaders. In a rare display of bipartisanship on a hot-button issue, even the Republican-led Senate Armed Services Committee agreed to the change.

Earlier this month, as regular readers know, Donald Trump published a tweet threatening to veto the defense bill. The House ignored him and passed it anyway, 295 to 195. The margin was significant: a veto-proof majority approved the legislation, which includes a provision on removing the names of Confederates.

The president then upped the ante, issuing a formal veto threat ahead of the Senate vote on the NDAA. Senators ignored him, too: it passed 86 to 14. That, too, was a veto-proof majority.

The House and Senate versions of the bill have some differences that will need to be worked out before the NDAA heads to the White House, but Trump appeared to have left himself in a lose-lose situation: he could reverse course and do the opposite of what he said he'd do, or he could veto a military spending bill, which includes raises for the troops, in an election year, only to have Congress override him.

This morning, however, the president claims to have found a way out of his mess -- by turning to Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.). Trump tweeted:

"I spoke to highly respected (Chairman) Senator @JimInhofe, who has informed me that he WILL NOT be changing the names of our great Military Bases and Forts, places from which we won two World Wars (and more!). Like me, Jim is not a believer in 'Cancel Culture'."

Right off the bat, let's note for the record that it's a real stretch to describe Senator Snowball, one of the nation's most notorious climate deniers, as "highly respected." It's also worth mentioning that the president may not fully understand the nuances of "cancel culture," which generally wouldn't apply to people who took up arms against Americans a century-and-a-half ago.

But I'm also not sure Trump, who's never understood his own country's legislative process, fully appreciates the limits of Inhofe's role.

The House's and Senate's NDAA bills are headed for something called a "conference committee," where members from both chambers negotiate competing versions of the same bill. The trouble for the president is, both versions of the NDAA already agree on renaming American military bases after Americans, not Confederates.

Trump's tweet made it sound as if Inhofe has some kind of line-item-veto power that empowers him to scrap the provision the president doesn't like. That's simply not the case. The Oklahoman is likely to be a conferee, and he's likely to bring this up during negotiations, but by all accounts, this part of the bill is likely to remain intact.

Indeed, let's not forget that it was Inhofe's committee that approved the provision on renaming the bases in the first place. Inhofe was also among the many senators who ignored Trump's veto threat.

Is it possible that the Oklahoman will somehow work behind the scenes to alter the NDAA to satisfy Trump? Yes. Is it likely given the broad, bipartisan support for making this change? No.

The larger question, which the White House hasn't yet answered, is why, with all that's going on right now in the United States, the president is so heavily invested in championing the names of Confederate generals.