Obama, Republicans on collision course over defense bill

Republicans are heading for a veto showdown with President Obama over an annual defense bill.

Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellMulvaney aims to cement CFPB legacy by ensuring successor's confirmation Senate left in limbo by Trump tweets, House delays Political figures pay tribute to Charles Krauthammer MORE (R-Ky.) has teed up the Senate to turn to the $612 billion National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) next week, despite a looming veto threat from the White House.

It's a familiar scenario for lawmakers. Obama has threatened to veto every defense bill for the past six years, but has never done so. Despite their track record, the administration is stressing that with the bill combining a host of policy fights, from lifting budget caps to closing Guantanamo Bay, the president will hold firm this year.

Speaking to reporters after lawmakers released their conferenced version of the bill, White House press secretary Josh Earnest called it an “irresponsible way to fund our national defense priorities,” reiterating that “if the president got this bill he’d veto it.”

Senate Republicans, however, appear poised to try to either call the president's bluff or force him to issue his fifth veto on legislation that they argue is vital for helping troops and protecting national security.

Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainMulvaney aims to cement CFPB legacy by ensuring successor's confirmation Trump mocks McCain at Nevada rally Don’t disrespect McCain by torpedoing his clean National Defense Authorization Act MORE (R-Ariz.), the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said Obama vetoing the defense bill would be “shameful.”

“If the President vetoes the NDAA, at this time of mounting global threats, he will be prioritizing politics and process over the security of our nation and the well-being of our armed forces,” he added.

Republicans, including McCain, argue that Obama shouldn’t pick a spending fight over the defense bill, which outlines Pentagon policy but doesn’t appropriate money.

If that fails, the Arizona Republican has given the president a more direct reason not to veto the legislation: A slate of civilian defense nominees need to be approved by McCain’s committee, and their fate could rest on Obama’s decision.

But the president is facing pressure to send the defense bill, which could reach his desk by the end of the week, back to Congress.

The policy bill has in many ways turned into a proxy war over spending between Republican lawmakers and the administration. Democrats say an extra $38 billion sought through the Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) fund is meant to help the Pentagon circumvent congressionally mandated budget caps, and underscores the need for a long-term deal that would increase funding for defense and nondefense programs. 


Defense Secretary Ashton Carter is also recommending that Obama veto the bill.

“It attempts to evade the question of overall fiscal responsibility with the so-called OCO gimmick which is objectionable to me and to others in other agencies, and I think ought to be to the taxpayer, and certainly to the warfighter,” he told reporters.

Senate Republicans have never been able to successfully override a veto from Obama. During a battle earlier this year over the Keystone XL Pipeline, they fell five votes short.

This time around, Senate Democrats could keep Republicans from having their fight with Obama.

Speaking to reporters after Democrats blocked a bill to fund military construction and veterans’ benefits, the Republican leader said, "I hope we're not going to see this stunt again next week on the defense authorization bill."

McConnell will need 60 votes on Tuesday to overcome a procedural hurdle. If he can get every Republican to support the bill — which is unlikely, since Sens. Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulGOP senators call for probe of federal grants on climate change Overnight Health Care — Presented by the Association of American Medical Colleges — Key ObamaCare groups in limbo | Opioids sending thousands of kids into foster care | House passes bill allowing Medicaid to pay for opioid treatments US watchdog: 'We failed' to stem Afghan opium production MORE (R-Ky.) and Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzSenate left in limbo by Trump tweets, House delays The Hill's Morning Report — Sponsored by PhRMA — Immigration drama grips Washington Senate Gang of Four to meet next week on immigration MORE (R-Texas) opposed the Senate’s version — he would need at least six Democratic votes.

A majority of the Senate Democrats on the conference committee are opposed to the final bill. Democratic Sens. Jack ReedJohn (Jack) Francis ReedOvernight Defense: States pull National Guard troops over family separation policy | Senators question pick for Afghan commander | US leaves UN Human Rights Council Senators question Afghanistan commander nominee on turning around 17-year war Reed: ‘Preposterous’ for Trump to say North Korea is no longer a nuclear threat MORE (R.I.), Bill NelsonClarence (Bill) William NelsonOvernight Defense: Defense spending bill amendments target hot-button issues | Space Force already facing hurdles | Senators voice 'deep' concerns at using military lawyers on immigration cases Rubio heckled by protestors outside immigration detention facility Obstacles to Trump's 'Space Force' could keep proposal grounded for now MORE (Fla.), Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinThe Hill's Morning Report — Sponsored by PhRMA — Trump caves under immense pressure — what now? Election Countdown: Family separation policy may haunt GOP in November | Why Republican candidates are bracing for surprises | House Dems rake in record May haul | 'Dumpster fire' ad goes viral Manchin up 9 points over GOP challenger in W.Va. Senate race MORE (W.Va.), Kirsten GillibrandKirsten Elizabeth GillibrandOvernight Defense: Defense spending bill amendments target hot-button issues | Space Force already facing hurdles | Senators voice 'deep' concerns at using military lawyers on immigration cases Senators 'deeply troubled' military lawyers being used for immigration cases Senate moving ahead with border bill, despite Trump MORE (N.Y.) and Mazie HironoMazie Keiko HironoDem senator: If Nielsen doesn't reunite families, 'she should resign' Democrats protest Trump's immigration policy from Senate floor Fourth Senate Dem calls for Nielsen to resign over family separation policy MORE (Hawaii) didn’t sign the final report.

On the surface that would seem to signal trouble for the defense bill next week, but the five senators also voted against the Senate’s version of the NDAA that passed by a 71-25 margin earlier this year.

That means if Democratic leadership wants to try to block the bill, they would likely face an uphill slog to convince more than a dozen senators to switch their votes and oppose the bill next week.

Asked about a potential filibuster, a Senate aide suggested that, while Tuesday’s vote could be close, the bigger focus is on if Democrats can stop the legislation from getting 67 votes — the amount needed to override a presidential veto.