U.S. Sen. John Cornyn resistant to renaming Fort Hood, military base named after a Confederate general

Cornyn said he’s worried efforts to erase America’s history could lead to people forgetting their mistakes.

U.S. Sen. John Cornyn resistant to renaming Fort Hood, military base named after a Confederate general
U.S. Senator John Cornyn speaks at The American Legion Boys State ceremony on the south steps of the University of Texas at Austin tower on June 14, 2019. (Source: Miguel Gutierrez Jr./The Texas Tribune)

WASHINGTON (The Texas Tribune) - U.S. Sen. John Cornyn expressed resistance to the idea of changing the name of Fort Hood, a massive Texas military base named after a Confederate military leader, as calls nationwide mount to remove monuments and rename bases named for memorializing Confederate leaders.

"There's no question that America was an imperfect union when we were founded, we obviously betrayed our ideals by treating African Americans as less than fully human," he said on a conference call with reporters. "And we've been paying for that original sin ever since then, through the Civil War, through the Civil Rights struggles in the '60s."

"And I believe that we've made tremendous progress, but I don't think we obviously are where we need to be."

“One of those most important things about our history is that we learn from it,” he added. “You can’t learn from our history if you try to erase it, because it’s hard to see where this leads. Now I could see efforts at the state and local levels to move let’s say move a monument to a state capitol to a history museum or the like, but I’m just not sure where, where this leads. And to me, one of the most import things about history is what we learn from it and how how we learn to not repeat our mistakes.”

Cornyn however, refused to directly address Fort Hood in this context.

"I am for looking forward, not looking backward," he said when pressed.

Cornyn similarly addressed the issue of whether to take down Confederate statues, and these comments come as the nation is taking a fresh look at Confederate historical markers in the wake of George Floyd's death at the hand of a Minneapolis police officer.

U.S. Rep. Veronica Escobar, an El Paso Democrat, swiftly responded to the comments.

"Erecting a statue that glorifies a confederate leader is not the same as documenting that period in history books," she wrote on Twitter. "Cornyn knows that. He simply can’t muster up the courage to do the right thing — even when it’s this easy."

As for policy, Cornyn has a track record of effectively overhauling federal criminal law. As a senior party member on the Senate Judiciary Committee, he is expected to play a role in moving legislation on this front in the coming months.

In the call to reporters, he endorsed a 9/11-style commission to study changes to policing, increasing funding for police training, and he endorsed an anti-lynching bill that is stalled in the Senate at the hand of U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, a Kentucky Republican.

“I do think that the commission is a worthy thing, it does have broad bipartisan support,” he said.

Fort Hood, a massive military installation in Central Texas, is at the center of this debate. The base is named for John Bell Hood, who was a lieutenant general in the Confederate army.

Across the country, crowds have pulled down statues of Confederate leaders and the issue is being considered more formally in the U.S. Capitol.

In Washington on Wednesday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi proposed removing 11 Confederate statues from the Capitol. Each state has two statues within the Capitol - mostly near the House chamber - of prominent local residents. The two Texas designees are Stephen F. Austin and Sam Houston. While both men were slave owners, neither joined the Confederacy. Austin died in 1836, years before the Civil War; and Houston was the only Southern governor to oppose secession. As a result, the state legislature deposed him from office.

Cornyn will meet on Friday with Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson and the state’s senior senator also indicated interest in meeting with Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner.

Cornyn said he met this week with the family of Floyd, who grew up in Houston. He said they requested "Texas-sized justice."

"Well, you have it if, I have anything to say about it," Cornyn said.

"In George Floyd's memory, to honor his memory, something good can come out of this but it's going to take all of us working together," he added.

As for policy moving forward, Cornyn has a track record of effectively overhauling federal criminal law. As a senior party member on the Senate Judiciary Committee, he is expected to play a role in moving legislation on this front in the coming months.

In the call to reporters, he endorsed a 9/11-style commission to study changes to policing, increasing funding for police training, and he endorsed an anti-lynching bill that is stalled in the Senate at the hand of U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, a Kentucky Republican.

"I do think that the commission is a worthy thing, it does have broad bipartisan support," he said.

Patrick Svitek contributed to this report.

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