McConnell splits with Trump on defence bill veto and bases named for Confederate generals

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell wears a face mask used to protect against the spread of the new coronavirus as he attends a press conference after meeting with Senate Republicans on 19 May, 2020: AP Photo/Patrick Semansky

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has split with Donald Trump over the president's threat to veto the annual defence spending bill if it includes a provision to rename military bases named for Confederate figureheads.

“Well, I would hope the president really wouldn't veto the bill over this issue. ... I hope the president will reconsider vetoing the entire defence bill, which includes pay raises for our troops, over a provision in there that could lead to changing the names,” Mr McConnell said in an interview on Fox News on Wednesday.

The president had indicated in a tweet earlier in the day that he would veto the $740bn bill if it includes an amendment from Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren to rename some US military bases.

“I will Veto the Defence 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!” Mr Trump tweeted.

The Senate Armed Services Committee unanimously agreed this week to add a provision to the bill to "remove all names, symbols, displays, monuments, and paraphernalia that honour or commemorate the Confederate States of America ... or any person who served voluntarily with the Confederate States of America from all assets of the Department of Defence" within three years of enactment.

Several GOP senators have filed an amendment to remove the language forcing the Defence Department to purge itself of Confederate paraphernalia and nomenclature, but the measure is unlikely to make its way to the Senate floor for a vote.

Negotiators on the annual National Defence Authorisation Act (NDAA) have struck mostly bipartisan chords so far, with Senate leaders expressing confidence they can strike a deal with House Democrats at a conference between the two chambers.

The Senate is also ironing out the wrinkles on a bill to make Juneteenth a federal holiday on a par with Martin Luther King Jr Day, Memorial Day, and other days of US historical and cultural significance.

Juneteenth, celebrated annually on 19 June, is a holiday for the emancipation of enslaved people in the US.

Senate Republicans are hung up on whether to move forward with a bipartisan bill from Senators John Cornyn of Texas and Ed Markey of Massachusetts or whether they should strike another federal holiday — namely, Columbus Day — to balance out the calendar, The Hill has reported.

“I’m just saying, let’s replace it with something. I chose Columbus Day just because it’s probably the most lightly celebrated and less disruptive to anybody’s schedule” Senator Ron Johnson of Wisconsin said, according to The Hill.

Johnson is “happy to celebrate the emancipation with a national holiday", he said.

"But I just don’t think we should be, when we’re already blowing a hole in the budget right now, offering another paid day off for federal employees,” he said.

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