Members of the House Armed Services unanimously passed an amendment Wednesday to the 2021 defense policy bill that would ban the display of the Confederate battle flag on all Defense Department properties.
The move comes after the Marine Corps announced in June it would no longer allow display of the symbol on its installations, including depictions on privately owned vehicles, T-shirts, coffee mugs, lockers, office cubicles and elsewhere.
The amendment to the House version of the National Defense Authorization Act was offered by Rep. Anthony Brown, D-Maryland., a retired Army Reserve colonel who served in the Iraq War.
It would prohibit display of the flag on all installations, workplaces and common and public areas, including the front yards and porches of government and privately managed military housing.
Exceptions would include museums on bases that showcase Civil War history; historical displays of Civil War battles in which the flag is not a main focus of the display; and state flags that incorporate the Confederate battle flag.
Brown said the flag and related symbols "have no place in our military."
"Recent, tragic events have underscored how much farther we have to go to heal the racial divisions that have plagued this country since our founding. Prohibiting the display of the Confederate flag - a symbol that for so many represents white supremacy, oppression and terror - on Department of Defense installations is an important step in that reckoning," Brown said in a release.
Army officials said last month they were reviewing the Marine Corps' and Navy's policies restricting the Confederate flag, but have not made a decision. The service also is weighing whether to change the names of 10 posts named for Confederate leaders.
U.S. Forces Korea already has banned display of the flag, originally the battle flag of the Army of Northern Virginia.
"The Confederate Battle Flag does not represent the values of U.S. forces assigned to serve in the Republic of Korea," Army Gen. Robert B. "Abe" Abrams tweeted on June 15. "While I acknowledge some might view it as a symbol of regional pride, many others in our force see it as a painful reminder of hate, bigotry, treason and a devaluation of humanity."
Another of Brown's amendments that garnered more debate during the markup of the proposed fiscal 2021 National Defense Authorization Act was a measure that would require DoD to rename military installations and real property named for Confederate military personnel.
Under Brown's amendment, DoD would have to change the names within one year of the law being signed.
Rep. Mac Thornberry of Texas, the ranking Republican on the committee, proposed an alternative amendment, requiring DoD to conduct an assessment of installations within a year to determine whether they should be renamed.
Thornberry said that while he personally thinks the bases should be renamed, Americans should be able to weigh in.
"Rather than just decide ourselves and dictate to the country, if we can prod discussion, encourage that self-examination, it's going to have deeper, longer-lasting effects," Thornberry said.
Brown said he agrees that a year is long enough to decide the names and change them.
"These are officers that led a confederacy in rebellion to our country that represent the defense of slavery and that institution," said Brown, adding that he was assigned to Fort Rucker, Ala.; Fort Bragg, North Carolina; Fort Benning, Georgia; and other posts named for Confederates. "I know today and Americans know today that these installations are named for officers that upheld that peculiar institution that inflicted so much pain and suffering on black people in America. You don't need a year of consultation for that."
The committee took a roll call vote to decide whether to include the base renaming amendment in its final version. The amendment was approved 33-23, with two Republicans voting for it, Rep. Don Bacon of Nebraska, who cosponsored the measure, and Rep. Paul Mitchell of Michigan.
The House bill currently under debate contains several other provisions designed to improve diversity and promote equality in the ranks.
They include funding for five Historically Black Colleges and Universities to increase the size of their Reserve Officer Training Corps programs, scholarship money for minority institutions to encourage students to enter math, science and engineering fields, studies on the racial makeup of the services' officer ranks and a measure to strip identifying information from records going before promotion boards.
President Donald Trump has threatened to veto the bill if it contained any provision to rename military bases that honor Confederate commanders.
Making his opinions known on Twitter Tuesday, Trump wrote he "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!"
Debate continues Wednesday in the House. The bill will have to be approved by the entire House and be reconciled with the Senate's version of the bill before it can go to the president's desk for signature.
The Senate's bill contains a slightly more moderate provision: it would require the Department of Defense to form a commission to develop a plan for identifying, modifying or removing names, symbols, displays and monuments that commemorate the Confederacy or any person who served for the Confederate States of America.