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GOP urges Trump not to tank defense bill over tech fight

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Republicans on Wednesday signaled that President Trump should not sink a must-pass defense policy bill over a fight with tech companies.

Trump, in a late-night tweet, vowed to veto the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) if it doesn’t include a repeal of Section 230, a provision that shields tech companies from liability for third-party content posted on their platforms.

But several top GOP senators are warning that the defense bill isn’t the right arena for Trump to dig in on the tech battle, which has emerged as a top target for the president and conservative allies.

“230 has nothing to do with the military,” said Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman James Inhofe (R-Okla.). “I agree with his sentiments … but you can’t do it in this bill. That’s not a part of the bill.”

Inhofe confirmed that language repealing Section 230 will not be in the final defense bill. He said he conveyed that to the president and hopes — but doesn’t know if — Trump will sign it.

“Well, we just had an honest disagreement, very friendly,” Inhofe said.

Sen. Mike Rounds (R-S.D.), a member of the Armed Services Committee, said he thought Trump was trying to express his frustration related to Section 230.

“I would hope that he would not actually follow through with that because the NDAA is critical,” he said about the veto threat.

Sen. John Thune (S.D.), the No. 2 Senate Republican, said that there was broad interest in reforming Section 230, but pointed to the Commerce Committee as the best area to take that up. He said he hoped the defense bill would be passed and signed into law without “a lot of drama.”

“I don’t think the defense bill is the place to litigate that,” Thune said. “There will be enormous support for getting the defense authorization bill passed and hopefully signed into law.”

Asked if he was saying he did not think Section 230 should be a part of the NDAA, Thune added: “There’s a normal legislative path for dealing with Section 230 … that would be my preference.”

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), the acting chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, added that he was supportive of “doing something about” Section 230 but questioned if the NDAA was the place to push the issue.

“I don’t know if vetoing would be the right approach because of the damage it would inflict,” he said. “I’m just not convinced that NDAA would be the right place to make that stand.”

Trump threatened to veto the NDAA on Tuesday night if a repeal of Section 230 wasn’t included.

“Section 230, which is a liability shielding gift from the U.S. to ‘Big Tech’ (the only companies in America that have it – corporate welfare!), is a serious threat to our National Security & Election Integrity. Our Country can never be safe & secure if we allow it to stand,” Trump tweeted.

“Therefore, if the very dangerous & unfair Section 230 is not completely terminated as part of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), I will be forced to unequivocally VETO the Bill when sent to the very beautiful Resolute desk. Take back America NOW. Thank you!” Trump added.

The White House previously floated that it could drop its objection to separate language renaming Confederate-named bases if a repeal of Section 230 was included. But House Democrats panned the offer and Inhofe indicated on Wednesday that the language is staying in place.

Instead, Reps. Adam Smith (D-Wash.) and Mac Thornberry (R-Texas), the chairman and ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee, respectively, said in a joint statement that the “time has come” to put aside “policy objectives and partisan preferences” and pass the NDAA.

Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.), meanwhile, vowed on Wednesday that he would vote to override Trump’s veto, if he issues one, “because it’s really not about” the president.

Though there’s broader interest in reforming or repealing Section 230, Trump and his allies have homed in on the issue as they’ve ramped up criticism against Facebook and Twitter.

Some GOP senators said on Wednesday that they would be supportive of Trump vetoing the defense bill.

“I’m quite alright with him not signing it because I think that 230 repeal ought to be in it,” said Sen. Mike Braun (R-Ind.).

Asked if he was supportive of Trump vetoing the NDAA, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), a close Trump ally, said that he was supportive of Trump “using all the leverage he can.”

— Updated at 3:15 p.m.

Tags Adam Kinzinger Adam Smith Big tech defense spending bill Donald Trump Jim Inhofe John Thune Liability shield Lindsey Graham Mac Thornberry Marco Rubio Mike Braun Mike Rounds NDAA Section 230 Social media

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