- Top military Gen. Mark A. Milley said before the House Armed Services Committee on Thursday that the military must take a “hard look” at Army bases named after Confederate officers.
- “The Confederacy… was an act of rebellion,” he said. “It was an act of treason at the time against the Union, against the Stars and Stripes, against the U.S. Constitution, and those officers turned their back on their oath.”
- Milley’s comments are an escalation in a recent tone shift by the military to disavow Confederate tributes that are rampant within the Armed Forces.
- It’s also being reported that the Defense Department is drafting a new policy that would ban the display of the Confederate flag from any of its buildings.
Milley Disavows Confederate Namesakes
A month after the U.S. Army said it was open to holding a “bipartisan conversation” on reviewing nearly a dozen major bases named after Confederate leaders, the military’s top officer has now said that the Armed Forces must take a “hard look” at that process.
“The Confederacy… was an act of rebellion,” General Mark A. Milley, who is also Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said before the House Armed Services Committee Thursday. “It was an act of treason at the time against the Union, against the Stars and Stripes, against the U.S. Constitution, and those officers turned their back on their oath.”
“The way we should do it matters as much as that we should do it. So we need to have, I’ve recommended, a commission of folks to take a hard look at the bases, the statues, the names, all of this stuff, to see if we can have a rational, mature discussion.”
During that meeting, Milley also said that about one in every five members of the Army is Black.
“For those young soldiers that go onto a base—a Fort Hood, a Fort Bragg or a fort wherever named after a Confederate general—they can be reminded that that general fought for the institution of slavery that may have enslaved one of their ancestors,” Milley said.
While the phrase “this should not be a political issue” has become increasingly common vernacular in U.S. politics in recent years, Milley asserted that his decision was political and that the renaming of those bases will need to be political, as well.
Any move to change those bases’ names will likely be met with a substantial amount of resistance, including from President Donald Trump. Just two days after Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy and Defense Secretary Mark Esper announced they were willing to hold talks on renaming 10 Army bases, Trump denounced the idea on Twitter.
“It has been suggested that we should rename as many as 10 of our Legendary Military Bases, such as Fort Bragg in North Carolina, Fort Hood in Texas, Fort Benning in Georgia, etc,” Trump said on June 10. “These Monumental and very Powerful Bases have become part of a Great American Heritage, and a history of Winning, Victory, and Freedom.”
“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.”
“Our history as the Greatest Nation in the World will not be tampered with. Respect our Military!”
Trump has vowed to veto any defense bill that includes proposals to initiate renaming proceedings. Still, both Democrats and Republicans in Congress have backed the idea of renaming bases. A House version of an annual defense bill would explicitly ban displaying the Confederate flag on Defense Department property. Another pair of bills in the House even seek to tie funding to a renaming process.
In 2017, the Army refused to change the names of the bases in question, calling any attempt to rename them “controversial and divisive.” In February, McCarthy again said there were no plans to rename the bases.
However, McCarthy has now indicated that he has the power to change those bases’ names but will need input from the White House, Congress, and local officials.
Banning the Confederate Flag
On Monday, it was also reported that leaders at the Pentagon are currently considering a ban on the Confederate flag at all bases. Notably, any such ban would extend to the whole of the Department of Defense.
CNN, which first reported the news, said it obtained the information from an official within the Pentagon. That official spoke on the condition of anonymity, as the move to ban Confederate flags would currently be classified as internal deliberations.
Thursday, Esper told the House that he’s initiated a process to begin examining “substantive and symbolic” issues.
“We want to take a look at all those things,” Esper said. “There is a process underway by which we affirm… what types of flags are authorized on U.S. military bases.”
The announcement came roughly a month after two branches of the military—the Marines followed by the Navy—banned Confederate flags on their bases. Those bans include the flag itself, as well as iconography displayed on shirts and bumper stickers. They did not ban historical uses of the flag, such as in scenes depicting Civil War battles.
Still, calls to remove Confederate tributes from the U.S. military have not stopped with only installation names and Confederate flags. Many also want the military to disavow the names of ships and buildings with Confederate namesakes.
Why Were U.S. Military Bases Named After Confederates?
The concept behind naming U.S. military installations after leaders of an army that committed treason against the United States is (to say the least) a bit of an oxymoron, even if it has only recently come into mainstream purview thanks largely to wide-scale protests over racial injustice.
Notably, each of those 10 installations are all in former Confederate States—Louisiana, Georgia, North Carolina, Virginia, Texas, and Alabama. Most of them were founded in the early 1940’s following the U.S. joining World War II because of an immediate need for large areas of land on which to build Army bases. They then gained their namesakes from influential local residents.
Not only were these bases named during the Jim Crow era, two were also named after self-avowed white supremacists. Fort Benning—located near Columbus, Georgia—is named after Brigadier General Henry Benning, who directly cited the preservation slavery as a reason for secession during the Virginian secession convention of 1861.
“If things are allowed to go on as they are, it is certain that slavery is to be abolished,” Benning said in his explicitly racist speech. “By the time the North shall have attained the power, the Black race will be in a large majority, and then we will have Black governors, Black legislatures, Black juries, Black everything. Is it to be supposed that the white race will stand for that?”
“We will be completely exterminated, and the land will be left in the possession of the blacks, and then it will go back to a wilderness and become another Africa,” Benning later added in that speech.
The other base, Fort Bragg, carries the namesake of General Braxton Bragg. Ironically, Bragg is considered one of the worst generals in the Civil War, and most of his battles led to defeat. In fact, his losses were so devastating that he is commonly cited as one of the main reasons the Confederacy lost the war.
Though it’s not the case for all the bases Milley is looking to rename, both Benning and Bragg have ties to the states where their bases sit.
Besides the 10 bases in question, several other bases with Confederate namesakes still exist and currently have no plans of being renamed. That includes Camp Pendleton in Virginia, as well as Camp Maxey in Texas. Both are national guard posts.
While not named after an officer, Fort Belvoir in Fairfax County, Virginia, is named after a slave plantation. Funnily enough, it didn’t gain that name until 1935 when it was changed from Camp A. A. Humphreys. What’s more, A. A. Humphreys was a Union General during the Civil War. Because of that, some have renewed criticism over the fort’s current name, arguing that it propagates a nostalgic vision of the Antebellum South.
See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (Politico) (CNN)
Mississippi Asks Supreme Court To Overturn Roe v. Wade
The Supreme Court’s decision to consider Mississippi’s restrictive abortion ban already has sweeping implications for the precedents set under the landmark reproductive rights ruling, but now the state is asking the high court to go even further.
Mississippi’s Abortion Case
Mississippi filed a brief Thursday asking the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade when it hears the state’s 15-week abortion ban this fall.
After months of deliberation, the high court agreed in May to hear what will be the first abortion case the 6-to-3 conservative majority will decide.
Both a district judge and a panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit had ruled that Mississippi could not enforce the 2018 law that banned nearly all abortions at 15 weeks with exceptions for only “severe fetal abnormality,” but not rape and incest.
If the Supreme Court upholds the Mississippi law, it would undo decades of precedent set under Roe in 1973 and upheld under Planned Parenthood v. Casey in 1992, where the court respectively ruled and reaffirmed that states could not ban abortion before the fetus is “viable” and can live outside the womb, which is generally around 24 to 28 weeks.
When the justices decided to hear the case, they said they would specifically examine the question of whether “all pre-viability prohibitions on elective abortions are unconstitutional.”
Depending on the scope of their decision on the Mississippi law, the court’s ruling could allow other states to pass much more restrictive abortion bans without the risk of lower courts striking down those laws.
As a result, legal experts have said the case will represent the most significant ruling on reproductive rights since Casey nearly three decades ago, and the Thursday brief raises the stakes even more.
When Mississippi asked the justices to take up its case last June, the state’s attorney general, Lynn Fitch (R), explicitly stated that the petition’s questions “do not require the Court to overturn Roe or Casey.”
But that was before the court’s conservatives solidified their supermajority with the appointment of Justice Amy Coney Barrett — who personally opposes abortion — following the death of liberal Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
New Filing Takes Aim at Roe
With the new filing, it appears that Fitch views the high court’s altered makeup as an opportunity to undermine the constitutional framework that has been in place for the better part of the last century.
“The Constitution’s text says nothing about abortion,” Fitch wrote in the brief, arguing that American society has changed so much that the previous rulings need to be reheard.
“Today, adoption is accessible and on a wide scale women attain both professional success and a rich family life, contraceptives are more available and effective, and scientific advances show that an unborn child has taken on the human form and features months before viability,” she added, claiming the power should be left to state lawmakers.
“Roe and Casey shackle states to a view of the facts that is decades out of date,” she continued. “The national fever on abortion can break only when this Court returns abortion policy to the states.”
The Center for Reproductive Rights, which represents Mississippi’s sole abortion provider in the suit against the state’s law, painted Fitch’s effort as one that will have a chilling effect on abortion rights nationwide.
“Mississippi has stunningly asked the Supreme Court to overturn Roe and every other abortion rights decision in the last five decades,” Nancy Northup, the president and CEO of the group said in a statement Thursday. “Today’s brief reveals the extreme and regressive strategy, not just of this law, but of the avalanche of abortion bans and restrictions that are being passed across the country.”
The Supreme Court has not yet said exactly when during its fall term it will hear oral arguments on the Mississippi case, but a decision is expected to come down by next June or July, as is standard.
An anticipated ruling just months before the 2022 midterms will almost certainly position abortion as a top issue at the ballot box.
See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (The Washington Post) (Politico)
Republicans Boycott Jan. 6 Committee After Pelosi Rejects Two of McCarthy’s Picks
The House Minority Leader said that unless House Speaker Pelosi reinstated the two members, Republicans will launch their own investigation into the insurrection.
Pelosi Vetoes Republicans
Republicans are boycotting the select committee to investigate the insurrection after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Ca.) rejected two of the five GOP members Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Ca.) picked to serve on the panel Wednesday.
In a statement, Pelosi cited the “statements and actions” of Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Oh.) and Jim Banks (R-In.), whose nominations she said she was opposing “with respect for the integrity of the investigation.”
Jordan and Banks — both staunch allies of former President Donald Trump — have helped propagate the previous leader’s false election claims, opposed efforts to investigate the insurrection, and voted not to certify the election for President Joe Biden.
A senior Democratic aide also specifically told The Washington Post that Democrats did not want Jordan on the panel because he reportedly helped Trump strategized how to overturn the election and due to the fact he spoke to the then-president on Jan. 6, meaning there is a possibility he could be called to testify before the very same committee.
The aide also said that Democrats opposed Banks’ selection because of a statement he issued after McCarthy chose him.
In the statement, the representative compared the insurrection to the racial justice protests last summer, implied that the rioters were just normal American’s expressing their political views, and claimed the committee was a political ploy “to justify the Left’s authoritarian agenda.”
Notably, Pelosi did say she would accept McCarthy’s three other nominees — including Rep. Troy Nehls (R-Wi.), who also voted against certifying Biden’s win.
McCarthy Threatens Separate Investigation
McCarthy, however, refused to select new members, and instead opted to remove all his appointees from the would-be bipartisan committee.
In a statement condemning the move, the minority leader said that Pelosi’s action “represents an egregious abuse of power.”
“Denying the voices of members who have served in the military and law enforcement, as well as leaders of standing committees, has made it undeniable that this panel has lost all legitimacy and credibility and shows the Speaker is more interested in playing politics than seeking the truth,” he said.
“Unless Speaker Pelosi reverses course and seats all five Republican nominees, Republicans will not be party to their sham process and will instead pursue our own investigation of the facts.”
Pelosi defended her decision during a press conference Thursday, where she said that Banks and Jordan were “ridiculous” choices for the panel.
“When statements are ridiculous and fall into the realm of, ‘You must be kidding,’ there’s no way that they’re going to be on the committee,” she added.
See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (The New York Times) (CNBC)
More Republican Are Pushing COVID Vaccinations, But the Party Remains Divided on Its Messaging
The renewed effort to encourage vaccination comes as the surge in COVID cases caused by the delta variant continues to disproportionately impact Republican-led states with low vaccination rates.
GOP Leaders Ramps Up Vaccination Push
In recent days, more Republican leaders and prominent conservatives have ramped up efforts to encourage members of their party to get vaccinated against COVID-19 as the U.S. continues to see massive surges from the delta variant.
Some, like Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.), have been pushing Americans to get vaccinated for months — a call he reiterated again on Tuesday. Many others, however, have been reticent to do the same until recently.
Most notable on that list is Rep. Steve Scalise (La.), the no. 2 Republican in House leadership, who just got his first dose over the weekend after resisting vaccination, claiming he had antibodies from previously contracting COVID. Scalise explained he changed his mind because of delta and encouraged others to do the same.
“There shouldn’t be any hesitancy over whether or not it’s safe and effective,” he said.
The top leader is set to continue pushing that advice. Earlier this week, the GOP Doctors Caucus announced that it would hold a news conference Thursday alongside Scalise and the third-ranking House Republican, Rep. Elise Stefanik (N.Y.), to encourage vaccination.
Rank and File Republicans Continue To Cast Doubt, Spread Misinformation
There are still plenty of Republicans working to undermine the renewed push to get their party vaccinated.
While many have painted vaccination as a matter of freedom of choice, others have sought to downplay the virus. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, whose state currently accounts for 40% of all new COVID cases, dismissed the spikes as the result of a “seasonal virus” on Monday.
Rep. Barry Loudermilk — who has had COVID twice — echoed that in a statement to reporters on Tuesday, where he argued that COVID is just something everyone has to live with.
“This is something we deal with in our lives on a daily basis; ever since I’ve been born, there’s sicknesses, there’s flu, there’s different diseases,” he said.
Some members of the GOP have used their positions of power to actively fight against vaccination. That includes Sen. Ron Johnson (Wi.), who has openly said he is not vaccinated. He has also been widely condemned for promoting unproven treatments and false information about vaccines during interviews and congressional hearings.
Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (Ga.), who has repeatedly refused to share her vaccination status, has also drawn ire for sharing misinformation and continually comparing COVID prevention efforts to the Holocaust.
Greene was temporarily suspended from Twitter earlier this week for sharing false information on Monday, but she continued to utilize her spotlight to spread misinformation about vaccine-related deaths and side effects during a press conference the following day.
While those who downplay the coronavirus and spread false information about vaccinations are certainly not representative of the entire Republican Party, they are some of the most visible.
Greene and many of her counterparts who push anti-vaccine narratives have frequently been accused of acting in inflammatory ways to get more press — a strategy that more often than not tends to work in their favor.
As a result, Republicans who want to encourage people to get the jabs will have their work cut out for them. Even many of those who have not openly expressed skepticism themselves have still let it flourish in the party for so long by not publicly pushing back against claims from members who sow disinformation.
The GOP’s broader failure to unify around a singular message on vaccines shows clearly among the party’s base.
According to a recent Washington Post-ABC News, poll 86% of Democrats have received at least one shot, but just 45% of Republicans have done the same. While just 6% of Democrats say they are not likely to get the vaccine, 47% of Republicans said they probably will not, and 38% said they definitely will not.
Meanwhile, Republican-led states with low vaccination rates are suffering the most from the new spike in cases and the rapid spread of the delta variant.
Arkansas, which has one of the lowest vaccination rates in the country at just 35%, is currently reporting the highest per-capita cases in the U.S. Hospitalizations have gone up 85% in the state in the last two weeks, placing some hospital systems on the brink of collapse — a problem also faced by parts of Missouri, which has the third-highest COVID cases nationwide.