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 McConnellTrump 'no longer angry' at Romney because of Supreme Court stance On The Money: Anxious Democrats push for vote on COVID-19 aid | Pelosi, Mnuchin ready to restart talks | Weekly jobless claims increase | Senate treads close to shutdown deadline The Hill's Campaign Report: Trump faces backlash after not committing to peaceful transition of power 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.

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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 McCainAnalysis: Biden victory, Democratic sweep would bring biggest boost to economy The Memo: Trump's strengths complicate election picture Mark Kelly: Arizona Senate race winner should be sworn in 'promptly' 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.

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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 PaulThe Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by Facebook - Trump previews SCOTUS nominee as 'totally brilliant' Rand Paul says he can't judge 'guilt or innocence' in Breonna Taylor case Overnight Health Care: Health officials tell public to trust in science | Despair at CDC under Trump influence | A new vaccine phase 3 trial starts MORE (R-Ky.) and Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzThe Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by Facebook - Trump previews SCOTUS nominee as 'totally brilliant' Cruz blocks amended resolution honoring Ginsburg over language about her dying wish Trump argues full Supreme Court needed to settle potential election disputes 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 ReedWhen 'Buy American' and common sense collide Hillicon Valley: Russia 'amplifying' concerns around mail-in voting to undermine election | Facebook and Twitter take steps to limit Trump remarks on voting | Facebook to block political ads ahead of election Top Democrats press Trump to sanction Russian individuals over 2020 election interference efforts MORE (R.I.), Bill NelsonClarence (Bill) William NelsonDemocrats sound alarm on possible election chaos Trump, facing trouble in Florida, goes all in NASA names DC headquarters after agency's first Black female engineer Mary W. Jackson MORE (Fla.), Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinSenate passes resolution reaffirming commitment to peaceful transition of power Hopes for DC, Puerto Rico statehood rise Manchin defends Supreme Court candidate Barrett: 'It's awful to bring in religion' MORE (W.Va.), Kirsten GillibrandKirsten GillibrandSunday shows preview: Justice Ginsburg dies, sparking partisan battle over vacancy before election Suburban moms are going to decide the 2020 election Jon Stewart urges Congress to help veterans exposed to burn pits MORE (N.Y.) and Mazie HironoMazie Keiko HironoManchin defends Supreme Court candidate Barrett: 'It's awful to bring in religion' Democrats shoot down talk of expanding Supreme Court Democrats unveil plan declaring racism a public health issue 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.