Senate Democrats on Wednesday joined with Republicans to approve an annual defense bill, defying a veto threat from President Obama.
The Senate voted 70-27 in favor of the $612 billion National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), a wide-ranging measure that would set policy and spending priorities for the Pentagon. Twenty Democrats voted yes, as did Sen. Angus KingAngus KingHopes rise for law to expand access to experimental drugs Senate advances Trump's Commerce pick Angus King opposing Mnuchin, Price nominations MORE (Maine), an Independent who caucuses with Democrats.
“The president is going to veto this. Everyone knows this,” Senate Minority Leader Harry ReidHarry ReidHopes rise for law to expand access to experimental drugs If Gorsuch pick leads to 'crisis,' Dems should look in mirror first Senate confirms Mulvaney to be Trump’s budget chief MORE (D-Nev.) said ahead of the vote. “The House, if they are called upon first to sustain the veto, they will do it. If we’re called up on first to sustain the veto, we will do it.”
Republican Sens. Ted CruzTed CruzTrump wants to cut red tape? He should start with the CFPB. Why President Trump should choose Maureen Ohlhausen to lead the FTC Trump to speak at CPAC MORE (Texas) and Rand PaulRand PaulTrump’s feud with the press in the spotlight Rand Paul: We’re very lucky John McCain’s not in charge Rand Paul: John Bolton would be a 'bad choice' for national security adviser MORE (Ky.), who are both running for president, were the only Republicans to vote against the bill. Two other 2016 candidates, Sens. Lindsey GrahamLindsey GrahamCheney to intro Pence at Jewish GOP event CEOs come to defense of border tax plan Trump’s feud with the press in the spotlight MORE (S.C.) and Marco RubioMarco RubioSchumer: GOP will break from Trump within months GOP loses top Senate contenders How does placing sanctions on Russia help America? MORE (Fla.), didn't vote.
The policy bill has been pulled into the larger battle over the GOP’s budget plan, which would appropriate $38 billion to the Pentagon through a war fund account.
Democrats and the White House say the war fund should not be used to skirt congressional budget caps and are demanding that Republicans negotiate a deal to raise spending across the federal government.
But Republicans, and even some Democrats, have questioned why Obama is poised to veto the NDAA, as the bill authorizes spending without actually appropriating the money.
"You know, I started to have conversation with the White House when we were taking this up in committee, telling them their veto threat was a mistake," said Sen. Tim KaineTim KaineMattis on rise in Trump administration Senate advances Trump's Commerce pick Steve Mnuchin, foreclosure king, now runs your US Treasury MORE (D-Va.), who voted in favor of the NDAA on Wednesday.
"To basically say you'll veto over the [war fund] issue, when we have language in the bill that basically says we should fix the budget caps, I said, 'I think you're drawing the line in the battle at the wrong place.' "
The policy bill has passed Congress for 53 consecutive years, and is typically considered one of the most important legislative tasks for Congress.
Sen. John McCainJohn McCainWebb: The future of conservatism New national security adviser pick marks big change on Russia Trump names McMaster new national security adviser MORE (R-Ariz.), the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said an Obama veto of 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.”
Majority Leader Mitch McConnellMitch McConnellRepublicans at risk in 2018 steering clear of town halls GOP rep on Trump: 'God has used imperfect people to do great things before' McConnell: 'Winners make policy, losers go home' MORE (R-Ky.) echoed that criticism Wednesday.
“If he does [veto the bill], it will be the latest sorry chapter in a failed foreign policy based on campaign promises rather than policies to realistically meet the threats before us,” he said.
Obama has threatened to veto the policy bill six times before, primarily due to objections on the transfer of prisoners from the Guantánamo Bay prison facility, but never followed through.
But this year will be different, the administration says, due to the president's strong objections to the use of the war fund.
Press secretary Josh Earnest this week called the GOP plan an “irresponsible way to fund our national defense priorities” and reiterated that Obama would reject it.
Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-Texas), the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, suggested that if Obama vetoes the bill, it would be different from the four times the NDAA has been vetoed in the past 53 years.
"Every one of them were because of something that was in the bill, not because of something that was outside bill, which is thing the president is complaining about today," he said.
If and when Obama’s veto comes, Republicans are likely to try for an override, though success appears unlikely. The House fell short of the two-thirds majority needed to override a veto when it voted on the NDAA last week. And Sen. Dick DurbinDick Durbin McConnell: I’m very sympathetic to 'Dreamers' Senate Dems move to nix Trump's deportation order Dem senators call for independent Flynn probe MORE (D-Ill.) warned on Tuesday that Republicans should not assume that Senate Democrats voting for the NDAA would also vote to overturn Obama’s veto.
"If we can't override [a veto] ... outside events will dictate the future and the fate of the legislation," McCain said. "We need 67 in the Senate. It will be very interesting to see how many we hold."
Some military groups have warned Obama against holding the policy bill hostage to the larger funding fight.
The Military Officers Association of America (MOAA) and the Reserve Officers Association have both sent letters to the president urging him to support the NDAA.
MOAA President Norbert Ryan Jr. said while the concerns about the extra war funding are “legitimate,” the policy legislation “is vital to fulfilling wartime requirements.”
— This story was updated at 5:19 p.m.