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 KingWasserman Schultz confronted Comey about Russian hacking Maine senator: ‘I haven’t made my final decision’ on Pompeo Lawmakers press Comey on rumors of FBI probe into Trump camp MORE (Maine), an Independent who caucuses with Democrats.
“The president is going to veto this. Everyone knows this,” Senate Minority Leader Harry ReidHarry ReidRyan says Trump, GOP 'in complete sync' on ObamaCare Congress has a mandate to repeal ObamaCare Keith Ellison picks ex-DNC Latino as press secretary 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 CruzRight renews push for term limits as Trump takes power Dissenting nominees give hope to GOP skeptics of Trump UN leader willing to meet lawmakers amid push to cut funding MORE (Texas) and Rand PaulRand PaulSanders, Dems defend ObamaCare at Michigan rally Paul: Medicaid expansion 'the big question' Rand Paul: ObamaCare replacement goal is to insure most people at lowest cost MORE (Ky.), who are both running for president, were the only Republicans to vote against the bill. Two other 2016 candidates, Sens. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Graham9 GOP senators Trump must watch out for UN leader willing to meet lawmakers amid push to cut funding GOP lawmaker: Calling Putin a war criminal could lead to conflict with Russia MORE (S.C.) and Marco RubioMarco Rubio19 companies that Trump has tweeted about Ex-Dem gov: I would have picked Giuliani over Tillerson Right renews push for term limits as Trump takes power 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 KaineLaura Ingraham mulling Senate run: report Schumer puts GOP on notice over ObamaCare repeal The Hill's 12:30 Report 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 McCain9 GOP senators Trump must watch out for Flawed Democratic idealism GOP lawmaker: Calling Putin a war criminal could lead to conflict with Russia 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 McConnellJuan Williams: Race, Obama and Trump Schumer puts GOP on notice over ObamaCare repeal Right renews push for term limits as Trump takes power 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 DurbinHUD finalizes rule to protect children from lead Trump should work with Congress to save 'Dreamers' Senators wrestle with whether to back Tillerson 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.