WASHINGTON — A bipartisan compromise and vote on the 2021 defense policy bill isn’t likely before the Nov. 3 elections, but it should come “quickly” thereafter, the House Armed Services Committee’s top Republican said Wednesday.
The vote would delay a decision from Congress about whether the Defense Department to rename military bases honoring Confederate leaders. It’s defining issue for the $740.5 billion defense authorization bill, which includes must-pass provisions like military pay hikes, defense equipment purchase plans and strategic posturing of forces in coming years.
“There are more negotiations that have to occur, and part of that negotiation is talking with the White House about the shape of that provision,” Rep. Mac Thornberry, of Texas, said at the Defense News Conference. “Is there a way to get everybody to ‘good?’ Of course there is. Is it likely to happen before the election? No, it’s not.”
Republicans and Democrats in the House and Senate voted overwhelmingly to back language requiring the changes, though the House requires the names changed within one year and the Senate bill requires them within three years.
President Donald Trump has threatened to veto the 2021 National Defense Authorization Act over the Confederate name changes among other issues.
Trump has said Senate Armed Services Chairman Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., personally assured him that Congress will not force the Pentagon to change the names. That’s fueled speculation that bipartisan negotiations to reconcile the bills could drag on.
The summer’s sustained protests over racial injustice have buoyed the provision, while Trump has argued that changing the names would dishonor troops who have served at the sites and that Confederate symbols aren’t racist. “We can’t cancel our whole history,” he told Fox News last month.
Thornberry, who had offered a softer alternative as a House amendment, said Wednesday that both sides have political incentives not to compromise on the base renaming provision, among other issues.
“I don’t know how that will come out in conference, but I do think we are in a time when neither party is rewarded for compromise, and coming together and getting things done,” he said. “On the other hand, I think we should be able to get a conference report pretty quickly after the election.”
Joe Gould was the senior Pentagon reporter for Defense News, covering the intersection of national security policy, politics and the defense industry. He had previously served as Congress reporter.