Washington: President Donald Trump on Wednesday vetoed the $740.5 billion U.S. defense policy bill, touching off a battle with Congress that could end in his first override by lawmakers, with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi promising action next week.
In his veto statement, Trump called the annual defense measure a “gift” to China and Russia, saying it failed “to include critical national security measures, includes provisions that fail to respect our veterans and our military’s history.”
House and Senate members have already been notified that they might be called back to Washington next week to override the veto. The bill passed both chambers with enough support to reach the two-thirds threshold to overrule the president, although some members could change their votes.
Pelosi said in a statement shortly afterward that Congress would begin voting to override on Monday. “The president’s veto of the National Defense Authorization Act is an act of staggering recklessness that harms our troops, endangers our security and undermines the will of the bipartisan Congress,” the California Democrat said.
Trump’s rejection of the crucial legislation aggravated already raw tensions between the White House and Capitol Hill and came just a day after he lambasted the coronavirus relief measure that both chambers of Congress had passed late Monday after months of negotiations.
David Popp, a spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, said guidance on the Senate’s plans with regard to an override vote on the defense legislation would come after the House acts. The Senate is next scheduled to convene for regular business on Dec. 29.
Trump didn’t speak to reporters on Wednesday afternoon as he left Washington to spend the Christmas holiday at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida.
He wanted to attach to the defense measure an unrelated provision to eliminate Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which protects technology companies from liability for most content published by their users. He repeatedly tweeted veto warnings if Congress did not make that part of the annual legislation.
Trump has also threatened to veto the legislation because it contained a provision for renaming military installations that honor Confederate generals.
The chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Jim Inhofe, said the defense bill is “vital to our national security and our troops.” Inhofe, an Oklahoma Republican, said Trump’s complaints about technology liability could be addressed in different legislation.
“Our men and women who volunteer to wear the uniform shouldn’t be denied what they need— ever,” Inhofe said in a statement shortly after Trump vetoed the bill. “I hope all of my colleagues in Congress will join me in making sure our troops have the resources and equipment they need to defend this nation.”
The president and others on the right have long accused social media platforms of censoring conservatives, something that the technology giants deny. While lawmakers from both parties have called for modifying or even eliminating Section 230, even Trump allies said it was the wrong place and the wrong time to wage that battle.
“I look forward to overriding the president’s fruitless and ridiculous attempt to undermine our national security over his shifting rationale for his decision to veto, including a provision to rename bases honoring Confederate military leaders – a provision that many in the President’s own party have supported,” Senator Mark Warner, a Virginia Democrat and vice chairman of the intelligence committee, said in a statement.
The lopsided margins to pass the bill earlier this month underscored the broad bipartisan support for the National Defense Authorization Act and indicated that Trump, in the closing days of his administration, had lost clout with congressional Republicans.
Even so, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, a California Republican, said he would “not vote against the president’s veto” even though he had voted for the measure.
Inhofe earlier called the defense measure “the most important bill of the year.”
“In voting against it, you have to stop and think about those kids that are out there in harm’s way and the threats that they are facing on a regular basis,” Inhofe said on the Senate floor Friday. “This is a serious thing that’s out there, and I can’t imagine wanting to have to face these people in the field, in harm’s way and say, well, we didn’t pass a defense authorization bill.”
Shockwaves in Washington
The bill would authorize $732 billion in discretionary spending for national defense, including $69 billion for overseas contingency operations. It also authorizes funding for 93 F-35 fighter jets built by Lockheed Martin Corp. after the Trump administration requested 79.
It also would back funding for the construction of two Virginia-class submarines a year, after the administration originally requested funding for only one to free up money for nuclear deterrence. It would provides contract authority for as many as two nuclear Columbia-class submarines made by General Dynamics Corp.
Trump surprise objections to the relief bill, and a demand for $2,000 individual stimulus payments instead of the $600 payments included in the legislation, sent shockwaves through Washington on Tuesday night.
In addition to $900 billion in pandemic-related measures, the package includes $1.4 trillion to fund government operations through next September. If the president doesn’t sign the legislation by Dec. 28, government funding would lapse after midnight that day, triggering a partial shutdown.