President Donald Trump was put on speakerphone in a restaurant during a conversation with Senate Armed Services Chairman Jim Inhofe Wednesday, where the two discussed Trump’s opposition to changing the names of US military bases named after Confederate officials, according to The New York Times.
“Are you doing good? We’re going to keep the name Robert E. Lee?” Trump asked, according to audio obtained exclusively by The New York Times, an apparent reference to Fort Lee, named for the Confederate leader.
“Just trust me, I’ll make it happen,” Inhofe assured Trump.
Trump told Inhofe that his tweet on the matter got “about 95,000 positive retweets.”
“That’s a lot,” he added.
A spokesperson for Inhofe did not respond to CNN’s request for comment on the audio. The White House declined to comment.
Last week, the House of Representatives approved a $740 billion national defense authorization bill that would require the military to remove the names of Confederate soldiers and leaders from military properties across the country. The Senate version of the bill incorporates similar provisions to rename the bases over three years. Trump has said he would veto the legislation if it strips the Confederate names from military bases.
In the Wednesday call, Trump appeared to be referring to a tweet he sent July 23 reiterating his support for keeping the names of those Confederate-commemorating military bases. The President said he spoke to Inhofe who, according to Trump, told him that “he WILL NOT be changing the names of our great Military Bases.”
Inhofe is now vowing to keep provisions to strip Confederate names from military bases out of the final National Defense Authorization Act – although it’s unclear how he could pull it off after both chambers of Congress approved similar efforts to get rid of the names with veto-proof majorities last week. Inhofe, who voted for the bill in the Senate, will be one of one of the four main negotiators in the conference committee to hammer out the final bill.
“We’re going to see to it that provision doesn’t survive the bill,” Inhofe told The Oklahoman. “I’m not going to say how at this point.”
The fight comes as the nation engages in a reckoning over systemic racism following the death of George Floyd while being arrested by Minneapolis police officers. Floyd’s killing sparked widespread protests and the removal by protesters, and in some cases, city leaders, of physical symbols of racism in Confederate monuments and statues.
But there has been some resistance to efforts to rename and tear down monuments. The President has vowed to keep the names on Confederate military installations. And in a letter to cadets, faculty, staff and alumni earlier this week, Virginia Military Institute superintendent, retired Gen. J. H. Binford Peay III, said the public military institute will not rename any of its buildings or remove any of its statues with such symbolism.
“We do not currently intend to remove any VMI statues or rename any VMI buildings. Rather, in the future we will emphasize recognition of leaders from the Institute’s second century. We will place unvarnished context on the value and lessons to be learned from the Institute’s rich heritage, while being mindful of the nation’s challenges and sensitivities to being fair and inclusive to all,” Peay wrote.
CNN’s Manu Raju contributed to this report.