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Hawley opposes renaming Army bases honoring Confederate generals

Austin Huguelet
Springfield News-Leader
U.S. Senate candidate Josh Hawley speaks in 2018 at a private fundraising event with Vice President Mike Pence at the Oasis Hotel & Convention Center in Springfield. Hawley on Thursday voted against changing the names of military bases that commemorate Confederates.

U.S. Sen. Josh Hawley came out against a plan to strip American military bases of Confederate names, monuments and symbols this week, arguing doing so would “erase” part of the country’s history.

Hawley, a Republican from Missouri, made his opposition clear Wednesday when he voted against Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s amendment to a defense spending bill.

On Thursday, he tweeted about the vote, adding, “Congress should not be mandating renaming of our bases and military installations.”

Hawley later elaborated to reporters in the Capitol.

“I just don’t think that Congress mandating that these be renamed and attempting to erase that part of our history is a way that you deal with that history,” Hawley said.

Missouri’s senior member, Sen. Roy Blunt, also a Republican, told reporters that he didn’t oppose name changes. Blunt, a trustee of the State Historical Society of Missouri, said there are many generals since the Civil War who could be honored.

“Braxton Bragg was probably the worst commanding general in the Confederate army,” Blunt added, referring to the namesake of the Army’s largest base. “Interesting general to name a fort after.”

In a floor speech Thursday, Hawley said he would offer his own amendment to undo Warren's "not to celebrate the cause of the Confederacy but to embrace the cause of union, our union, shared together as Americans. It is time for our leaders to stop using their position here to divide us."

Hawley’s stand puts him in the same camp as President Donald Trump, who has vowed to block any attempt to change the base names.

But it’s not clear whether that camp is a winner.

Warren’s amendment passed a Republican-controlled committee Wednesday, and other Republicans have expressed openness to the idea.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-California, told reporters Wednesday he’s “not opposed” to it.

U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt, Missouri’s other Republican senator, said he didn’t have “any problem” with the idea “at all,” according to the New York Times.

The U.S. Army maintains 10 bases named in honor of Confederate traitors who led troops against the United States in their failed effort to defend the slave-owning South, including Forts Bragg, Hood and Benning in North Carolina, Texas and Georgia.

The push to rename them comes amid a national reckoning on racism following weeks of protests of police violence against black people that has already seen changes in other arenas.

NASCAR announced Wednesday it would ban Confederate flags from its events. A week before, the governor of Virginia said he would order the removal of a Robert E. Lee statue in Richmond, the former Confederate capital. Elsewhere in the military, the Marine Corps banned most public displays of the Confederate battle flag.

And before Trump declared his opposition to renaming bases Wednesday, the military newspaper Stars and Stripes reported that Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy wanted to have a “bipartisan discussion” on the issue.

Trump, for his part, has framed the idea of renaming bases as a sort of sacrilege.

“These Monumental and very Powerful Bases have become part of a Great American Heritage, and a history of Winning, Victory, and Freedom,” he tweeted. “Therefore, my Administration will not even consider the renaming of these Magnificent and Fabled Military Installations.”

His press secretary, Kayleigh McEnany, told reporters such changes would be “an insult” to troops who served on the bases.

It wasn’t clear how many soldiers felt that way.

Retired Gen. David Petraeus, who led American forces in Iraq and Afghanistan and served at Fort Bragg three times, said he felt the opposite way in an essay for The Atlantic.

“Plainly put, Lee, Bragg, and the rest committed treason, however much they may have agonized over it,” Petraeus wrote. “The majority of them had worn the uniform of the U.S. Army, and that Army should not brook any celebration of those who betrayed their country.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Austin Huguelet is the News-Leader's politics reporter. Got something he should know? Have a question? Call him at 417-403-8096 or email him at ahuguelet@news-leader.com.