WASHINGTON — 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 mount nationwide to remove monuments and rename bases 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. The comments come as the nation is taking a fresh look at Confederate historical markers in the wake of George Floyd's death at the hands of Minneapolis police.
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 and increasing funding for police training, and he endorsed an anti-lynching bill that has been stalled in the Senate by U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, a Kentucky Republican.
"I do think that the commission is a worthy thing, it does have broad bipartisan support," Cornyn 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 at 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 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.
Patrick Svitek contributed to this report.