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Confederacy First? Trump warns of military budget veto to keep base names

Fort Lee in Virginia, seen in 2006, is

Fort Lee in Virginia, seen in 2006, is one of 10 U.S. military installations named for a Confederate general. Credit: AP / Steve Helber

His cause with rebels

Even Mississippi and its Republican-dominated legislature decided this week the time has come to remove the Confederate battle flag from its state banner. But President Donald Trump is so determined to keep the names of rebel military leaders on 10 U.S. Army bases and facilities that he vowed to veto Congress’ annual defense authorization bill if it calls for removing them.

“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 wrote on Twitter. The Warren amendment won bipartisan support in a voice vote of the Senate Armed Services Committee last month.

Unaddressed by Trump was the conclusion of present and former Pentagon officials that the Confederate names are an affront to descendants of slaves who serve in the military, and give undeserved honor to those who, as retired Gen. David Petraeus put it, "committed treason" against the United States in the Civil War.

Democrats denounced Trump's threat, and some Republicans who support renaming the bases voiced hope that the president would back down.

"I dare President Trump to veto this vital bill that contains a pay increase for our troops in the name of protecting the Confederacy. The amendment is in the bill, it’s bipartisan, and it will stay in the bill," tweeted Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer. “ … If you want to veto this legislation, make our day."

Republicans including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy have expressed support for renaming the bases. "I would hope the president really wouldn't veto the bill over this issue," McConnell told Fox News, noting one of his own ancestors was a Confederate veteran.

“Ultimately, I don’t think the name of a facility should be something that’s divisive or offensive to people, especially if there are better alternatives to it,” said Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.). The $740 billion bill has "so many important elements in it" that the renaming provision should not alone "be a reason to even vote against it or veto it,” Rubio said.

Injecting bleach into body politic?

Trump never got around to renouncing the "white power" shout from a Florida supporter in a video he tweeted, then deleted, last weekend. It's consistent with signs that Trump is digging in on a whitening political strategy he hopes will reverse his falling support among suburban voters.

In a tweet Tuesday night, Trump said he's looking at revoking an Obama-era fair housing rule known as Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing, which was meant to strengthen enforcement of the Fair Housing Act of 1968 against racial discrimination. The 2015 Obama initiative required local governments to track data on poverty and segregation to gain access to federal housing funds.

“At the request of many great Americans who live in the Suburbs, and others, I am studying the AFFH (Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing) housing regulation that is having a devastating impact on these once thriving Suburban areas,” he said. "Corrupt Joe Biden wants to make them MUCH WORSE. Not fair to homeowners, I may END!"

Trump's animus toward federal fair-housing rules dates to a 1973 suit against Trump by the Nixon-era Justice Department for alleged racial discrimination at his family's housing developments in New York City. The Trumps settled the suit by agreeing to measures that included running ads welcoming Black applicants.

Last year, Newsday's award-winning Long Island Divided series documented persistent racial bias against Black and Latino potential homebuyers in Nassau and Suffolk counties.

Drawing lines

In tweets Wednesday morning on another racial issue, Trump denounced New York City's plan to paint "Black Lives Matter" on Fifth Avenue in front of Trump Tower while cutting the NYPD budget by $1 billion. Trump said Mayor Bill de Blasio would be "denigrating this luxury Avenue" with a "symbol of hate."

Axios reports Trump has told people in recent days that he regrets following senior adviser Jared Kushner's advice on taking steps toward racial conciliation, such as the 2018 criminal justice law that addressed racial disparities in sentencing. Trump also will likely go no further beyond the mild policing-change executive order from last month, senior officials told Axios.

Trump figures that such policies won't win him any more African American support and will stick with his own instincts, the report said. "He truly believes there is a silent majority out there that's going to come out in droves in November," a source told Axios. 

Janison: 'Hoax' hustle wears thin

When it comes to hoaxes, Trump has a perfect losing record, writes Newsday's Dan Janison. Hoaxes he perpetrated have been exposed, while those he said were aimed against him turned out not to be hoaxes at all. 

Trump uses the word "hoax" as a shield whenever ugly facts emerge about his passive posture toward Russia. First he called the Mueller investigation a hoax, even as it produced criminal convictions, documented Russian pro-Trump hacking and propaganda and established — through Trump's own aides' sworn testimony — clear White House plans to squelch the probe.

Then he called the House Democrats' impeachment hearings a hoax. Trump said this despite overwhelming evidence that he used his clout to lobby Ukraine's president to try to smear Biden, while stalling U.S. weapons intended for Ukrainian defense against a Russian incursion. 

Now, both houses of Congress are simply doing their jobs by asking about U.S. intelligence reports that Russian agents offered Taliban-linked militants bounties to target American soldiers in Afghanistan. Trump tweets: "The Russia Bounty story is just another made up by Fake News tale that is told only to damage me and the Republican Party … Just another HOAX!" But no administration officials call it fake; the best face they are trying to put on it is that the intelligence wasn't airtight and that Trump wasn't verbally briefed about it.

Oh, don't forget: In late February, at a rally in South Carolina, Trump said Democrats were trying to use the coronavirus to smear him. He called this effort "their new hoax."

Chilling the messenger

The White House explanation that Trump didn't get a verbal briefing about intel pointing to Russian bounties because it wasn't full verified has brought derision from officials who have worked on the written President’s Daily Brief, The New York Times reported.

But what is plausible to some is that briefers were leery of bringing it to the attention of a president who reacts angrily to reports about malign behavior by Russia. He also is known to pay scant attention to what is written in the PDB, which included the intel on the bounties in February, according to Politico.

Trump “repeatedly objected to criticizing Russia and pressed us not to be so critical of Russia publicly,” his former national security adviser John Bolton wrote in his recent memoir. A parade of other former national security aides has emerged, bruised, with similar reports.

“Trump's briefers discovered that when his oral briefing included intelligence related to Russia's malign activities against the United States … Trump would often blow up at them, demanding to know why they kept focusing on Russia," CNN's chief national security correspondent Jim Sciutto wrote in an upcoming book about Trump's approach to foreign policy.

The bounty intelligence was deemed serious enough for the National Security Council to consider options on how the U.S. should respond.

On masks, won't ask

Trump said Wednesday he's "all for masks" and that he "thinks masks are good" to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus. He just won't go so far as to explicitly urge people to wear them.

When asked whether he would wear a mask, Trump told Fox Business Network in a White House interview: "Oh, I would. I have. I mean, people have seen me wearing one. If I'm in a group of people where we're not 10 feet away — but usually I'm not in that position and everyone's tested." He added his mask was dark black and he "looked like the Lone Ranger." (If so, he’s doing it wrong. The TV Western character wore a mask around his eyes.)

Trump also said he still thinks the coronavirus will "sort of just disappear" someday. He said the same thing in February. The U.S. on Wednesday set a record for coronavirus cases in a single day, with 46,853 reported, according to Johns Hopkins University's tally of cases.

The Federal Reserve is worried that a second wave of recession, even worse than one that occurred in February, could sweep over the country later this year if the pandemic isn’t brought under control. That comes in a just-released summary of a Fed meeting from June 9-10, before the latest surge of cases in the Sunbelt.

More coronavirus news

See a roundup of the latest pandemic developments from Long Island and beyond by Newsday's reporting staff, written by Bart Jones. For a full list of Newsday's coronavirus stories, click here.

What else is happening:

  • Vice President Mike Pence, on a visit to Arizona, which is suffering record coronavirus infections, urged people to wear masks.
  • A New York appellate judge ruled on Wednesday that Simon & Schuster could go ahead with its plans to release a tell-all book by Mary L. Trump, the president's niece, reversing a lower court’s decision, The New York Times reported.
  • Trump's job approval rating has dropped to 39% nationwide in the latest Politico/Morning Consult poll. The survey found sinking voter optimism as well, with only a quarter of voters responding that the country is headed in the right direction, while 75% said things were “pretty seriously” on the wrong track.
  • Trump tweeted falsely that Biden responded to questions from reporters with prewritten answers displayed on a teleprompter. Biden used the teleprompter for the Tuesday speech, not for the news conference that followed.
  • Trump’s July Fourth celebration on the National Mall in Washington will feature one of the largest fireworks displays ever and as many as 300,000 face masks will be given away to those who want them, but no one will be required to wear them, The Associated Press reported.
  • Trump won the votes of seniors by 8 points in 2016, but he now trails Biden by 5 points on average with that group in recent national polls, according to The Washington Post.
  • Trump and the Republican National Committee raised a combined $131 million in June, a significant jump over its recent monthly fundraising hauls, Politico reports.
  • A federal judge ordered the Trump administration to stop enforcing an immigration rule that disqualifies most non-Mexican migrants from asylum at the U.S. southern border. The rule said they had to first seek asylum in countries they travel through on their way north.

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