Trump vetoes defense bill, setting up showdown with Congress

President Donald Trump vetoed major defense policy legislation Wednesday, making good on repeated threats to reject the bill if it didn’t repeal a legal shield for social media companies.

The White House announced Trump’s long expected veto of the National Defense Authorization Act in a statement. The administration cited lawmakers’ refusal to repeal the online liability protections and forcing the renaming of military bases named for Confederate leaders, among other gripes.

“I will not approve this bill, which would put the interests of the Washington, D.C. establishment over those of the American people,” Trump said.

The veto paves the way for lawmakers to deliver a major rebuke of the president in the final weeks of his administration if Democrats and Republicans are able to join forces to enact the legislation over his objections. But it will also test the mettle of GOP lawmakers who have been wary of crossing the outgoing president.

Congress plans to return the week after Christmas to vote to override the veto. The House has scheduled a vote for next Monday, and if that succeeds, the Senate will come back into session on Tuesday to deal with the issue.

Two thirds of the House and Senate must vote in favor of the legislation in order to nullify the veto.

The threat of a presidential veto has loomed over the $741 billion policy bill, H.R. 6395 (116), for months. Trump injected his demand to repeal the social media protections, known as Section 230, late in negotiations on the bill.

It wasn’t Trump’s first veto threat. The president promised to tank the bill over the summer if it forced the military to rename bases that honor former Confederate leaders. The final bill includes a provision authored by Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) that would scrub base names and other military assets over a three-year period.

Trump reiterated his pledge to veto the NDAA last week by calling the legislation a win for Beijing, contradicting members of his own party who have touted the bill as tough on China.

“I will Veto the Defense Bill, which will make China very unhappy. They love it,” Trump tweeted last Thursday. “Must have Section 230 termination, protect our National Monuments and allow for removal of military from far away, and very unappreciative, lands. Thank you!”

The Trump administration has also opposed measures in the defense bill that limit his authority to remove troops from Afghanistan and Germany. Trump is pushing to lower U.S. troop levels to 2,500 in Afghanistan by Jan. 15. Separately, his administration is pressing to move 12,000 troops out of Germany after Trump criticized the NATO ally for not spending enough on defense. Both moves received bipartisan criticism.

The bill includes several other major provisions the White House opposes, including creating a Senate-confirmed national cyber director position.

The defense policy bill has become law for 59 consecutive years and is one of the bills that reliably passes each year. Now its fate hinges on lawmakers delivering Trump one of the few significant legislative rebukes of his presidency.

Republicans had hoped large enough votes would convince Trump to back off his threat and sign the bill, but entreaties from GOP lawmakers didn’t convince the president.

Congressional leaders ignored Trump’s demand. The House and Senate easily passed the bill this month with large enough majorities to overcome a veto. The House passed the final bill in a 335 to 78 blowout. The bill sailed through the Senate on a similarly wide 84 to 13 vote.

Lawmakers have until the new Congress is sworn in on Jan. 3 to override Trump’s veto and can easily do so if those margins hold.

The issue has divided Republicans, as some GOP lawmakers who supported the NDAA may side with Trump on a veto override vote.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy is the most prominent example. The Republican leader voted in favor of the NDAA, but said he won’t vote to override a veto. Republican Conference Chair Liz Cheney of Wyoming, meanwhile, said lawmakers should enact the bill over Trump’s objections.

Senate Armed Services Chair Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) unsuccessfully attempted to steer Trump away from a veto. Inhofe, one of Trump’s closest allies on Capitol Hill, has vowed to work to override a veto.

Another Republican Armed Services member, Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri, opposed the final bill after publicly backing Trump’s effort to repeal Section 230 and criticized the base renaming provision.

Trump’s veto is only the sixth for a defense bill in just over four decades. His immediate predecessors Barack Obama, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton each vetoed one defense bill in eight years in office.

Trump has vetoed a handful of bills during his term, including resolutions to terminate arms sales to the Middle East and to block military funding for his border wall with Mexico. None of the congressional override attempts came close to overturning them.


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