President Donald Trump was caught on speakerphone asking for assurance from a top GOP lawmaker that a Virginia military base would remain named for Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee.
The New York Times obtained audio of a Wednesday night call between Trump and Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Jim Inhofe, as the Oklahoma Republican put a conversation with the president on speaker as he dined at a Capitol Hill restaurant.
‘We’re gonna keep the name of Robert E. Lee?’ Trump asked Inhofe, who despite the speaker function had his ear pressed to the phone. ‘Just trust me, I’ll make it happen,’ Inhofe replied.
The president had tweeted Friday that Inhofe had told him that the 10 military bases named after Confederate figures would not be renamed.
‘I spoke to the highly respected (Chairman) Senator Jim Inhofe, 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 mores!),’ Trump wrote. ‘Like me, Jim is not a believer in “Cancel Culture.”‘
During Inhofe’s dinnertime call, referenced ‘cancel culture’ again and told the lawmaker that people ‘want to be able to go back to life’ referring to the current cultural reckoning with an expletive, the Times reported.
Trump also could be heard boasting about how well his Friday tweet performed.
The senator was eating at Trattoria Alberto, a Capitol Hill Italian restaurant popular with Republicans.
‘I had about 95,000 positive retweets on that. That’s a lot,’ Trump could be heard saying.
The tweet currently has 34,500 retweets, but was like 134,200 times.
Trump tweeted a day after the Republican-led Senate had passed the $740.5 billion defense spending bill that included an amendment proposed by Sen. Elizabeth Warren to rename the bases still named for Confederate fighters.
The Senate bill had strong bipartisan support and passed 86-14.
The bill’s companion in the House also passed and includes a provision to rename bases like North Carolina’s Fort Bragg, but gives the Defense Department a deadline of a year, instead of the three-year period outlined in the Senate amendment.
The provision to rename the bases could be pulled out in Conference Committee and Inhofe is one of the conferees, but with the measure’s broad bipartisan support that’s unlikely.
Trump first dramatically came out against the renaming of military bases that are named for Confederate figures on June 10, tweeting out a statement and then having White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany hand it out to reporters and read it aloud.
‘These Monumental and very Powerful Bases have become part of a Great American Heritage, and a history of Winning, Victory, and Freedom,’ Trump tweeted. ‘The United States of America trained and deployed our HEROES on these Hallowed Grounds, and won two World Wars.’
‘Therefore, my Administration will not even consider the renaming of these Magnificent and Fabled Military Installations,’ Trump said.
Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy had told Politico he was ‘open’ to renaming the 10 bases named for Confederate figures. Defense Secretary Mark Esper also supported the conversation.
The Memorial Day death of George Floyd, a black Minneapolis man who was killed by a white police officer, and the subsequent ‘Black Lives Matter’ protests, motivated McCarthy’s change of heart, one Army official told Politico.
The events ‘made us start looking at ourselves and the things that we do and how that is communicated to the force as well as the American people,’ the source said.
Confederate statues, among other things, have been targeted for removal because the south seceded from the United States to keep black Americans enslaved.
But Trump has shown no evolution on the issue and instead staked his re-election prospects of taking that side on the culture war.
Warren, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, introduced the amendment during a closed-door session on June 11 and with the help of some of her Republican colleagues it passed.
The vote was done by voice, so there was no record of which senators voted for it.
Trump caught wind of the move, but only after it had happened.
‘Seriously failed presidential candidate, Senator Elizabeth “Pocahontas” Warren, just introduced an Amendment on the renaming of many of our legendary Military Bases from which we trained to WIN two World Wars,’ Trump wrote. ‘Hopefully our great Republican Senators won’t fall for this!’
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, a New York Democrat, taunted Trump about his threat.
‘I dare President Trump to veto the bill over Confederate base naming. It’s in the bill. It has bipartisan support. It will stay in the bill,’ Schumer said.
As the bill worked its way from committee to the full Senate, Trump vowed to veto the legislation late last month.
‘I will Veto the Defense 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!’ Trump tweeted on June 30.
Both bills passed with veto-proof majorities.