Georgia lawmakers strongly back bill that would remove Confederate names from bases

Only one member of state’s U.S. House delegation votes against bill

WASHINGTON — A veto-proof majority in the U.S. House approved an updated defense policy bill that, among other things, would start the process of renaming military bases named after Confederate leaders.

In Georgia, that would mean new names for Fort Gordon outside Augusta and Fort Benning near Columbus. All but one member of the state’s House delegation — Republican U.S. Rep. Jody Hice of Monroe — voted in favor of the bill Tuesday.

The Senate is expected to approve the National Defense Authorization Act by a similar margin, setting up a showdown with President Donald Trump, who has pledged to veto the measure in part because of the base renaming provisions.

U.S. Rep. Austin Scott, who was on the conference committee that negotiated the final version, missed the vote because he is still recovering from COVID-19. He said in a statement Tuesday that he hopes the president signs the bill and noted that it provides a 3% pay raise for troops.

“The NDAA is one of the most important pieces of legislation we pass each year, and I am glad we were able to deliver this critical legislation to provide for our warfighters and their missions,” the Tifton Republican said.

Scott also pointed out that the negotiated bill established a commission and provided a three-year deadline to recommend new names for bases carrying Confederate ones. The House, led by Democrats, had initially pushed to rename the bases within a year.

U.S. Rep. Kwanza Hall, an Atlanta Democrat who is filling the remainder of the late U.S. Rep. John Lewis’ term, said he was happy to support the bill and begin the process of removing Confederate names and symbols from military installations across the country.

“While it is important to remember our nation’s history, it is equally important not to venerate and honor those who worked towards the dissolution of the Union in the name of slavery and bondage — or any other cause,” he said in a statement.

House members approved the defense bill 335-78, with one representative voting “present.” Forty Republicans, 37 Democrats and one independent lawmaker opposed the bill.

Hice and other members of the conservative House Freedom Caucus said they opposed the bill for various reasons, including language that blocks Trump from withdrawing troops in foreign countries and elimination of funding for the border wall.

“This NDAA is flawed on so many different fronts,” Hice said at a press conference called by the caucus. “It is filled with progressive agenda items, and our military is no place to be playing politics.”

Other Georgia representatives cited the measure’s impact in their own districts as reasons for their support. Scott highlighted money going to Robins Air Force Base; U.S. Rep. Barry Loudermilk pointed to funding for planes built at a plant in Cobb County.

U.S. Rep. Rick Allen noted $80 million for barracks at Fort Gordon, and U.S. Rep. Buddy Carter said the bill will keep the A-10 aircraft flying at Moody Air Force Base while modernizing a different fleet in Savannah.

“Replacing the aging fleet at the 165th Airlift Wing will ensure longevity for the mission and ensure they stay the region’s preeminent airlift wing,” Carter, a Republican from Pooler, said in a statement.

Democratic Rep. Lucy McBath of Marietta noted that several members of her family, including her father, brother and nephew, are veterans. She said she was proud to support the measure.

“The bipartisan measure we approved in the House today strengthens our national security, supports those who sacrifice for our nation, and moves our nation toward a safer and more secure future,” she said.

The NDAA is a sweeping Pentagon policy measure that generally floats above partisanship; it has been signed into law each year for six decades straight.

The base renaming provision is just one small element but drew a great deal of attention when it was added to the bill over the summer. At the time, U.S. Rep. Doug Collins said it was one of the reasons he voted against the measure when it first came up for a floor vote.

Collins did not cast a vote on the final negotiated version Tuesday. The Gainesville Republican’s team said he had a personal commitment in Georgia but would have voted “no” again.

The U.S. Senate will vote on the bill as soon as Wednesday, meaning Trump could have a decision to make by the end of the week.

U.S. Sen. David Perdue serves on the Armed Forces Committee where the amendment containing the base renaming provision was inserted. Both he and U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler later voted in favor of the Senate version of the bill, although Loeffler said she hoped that provision would be removed before she was asked to vote on a final version.

Last week, Trump made a different veto threat tied to the NDAA. He said he would reject the bill unless lawmakers added language repealing First Amendment protections for social media companies. Members from both parties said the issue was unrelated to defense policy and didn’t belong in the NDAA; the language Trump requested was not added.