Senate passes defense bill, setting up Trump veto fight

The Senate passed a mammoth defense policy bill on Friday, setting up a veto showdown with President TrumpDonald TrumpSchumer: Impeachment trial will be quick, doesn't need a lot of witnesses Nurse to be tapped by Biden as acting surgeon general: report Schumer calls for Biden to declare climate emergency MORE.

Senators overwhelmingly supported the $740 billion National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) in an 84-13 vote, approving it with more than the two-thirds majority that would be needed to override a potential veto from President Trump, who opposes the legislation on two points. 

The bill already passed the House this week in a 355-78 vote, meaning it now goes to Trump, where he’ll have to decide if he is going to follow through with his veto threat despite bipartisan opposition. 


Top Republicans touted the bill ahead of Friday, underscoring the division between the president and congressional Republican leaders. 

“It does not contain every policy that either side would like to pass, but a huge number of crucial policies are included and a lot of bad ideas were kept out. So I would encourage all our colleagues to vote to advance this must-pass bill,” said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellSchumer: Impeachment trial will be quick, doesn't need a lot of witnesses McConnell: Power-sharing deal can proceed after Manchin, Sinema back filibuster Budowsky: A Biden-McConnell state of emergency summit MORE (R-Ky.). 

Trump has homed in on two issues. One is his months-long fight over a plan, included in the final version of the bill, that would require Confederate bases and military installations to be renamed within three years. Though senators had hoped that he had backed down from that fight, Trump shouted out the provision in a tweet this week.

More recently he’s hammered the bill over not including a repeal of Section 230, which provides a legal shield to tech companies and has emerged as a prime punching bag for the president and his allies. The bill also rebuffs Trump’s efforts to draw down troops in Germany and Afghanistan.

Though the bill passed both chambers this week with enough votes to override a veto, there could be a shuffling on an override vote with some GOP lawmakers flipping to stick with Trump and some Democrats who opposed the bill supporting an override. 

Republicans say there have been efforts to talk Trump down from his veto threat, which could imperil a bill that typically passes with overwhelming bipartisan support and has been signed into law for 59 years in a row. 


“My hope is that if the number is big enough that the president reconsiders his threat to veto it. It's clear what the final outcome will be,” said Sen. John CornynJohn CornynMcConnell: Power-sharing deal can proceed after Manchin, Sinema back filibuster Manchin vows that he won't vote to kill filibuster 'under any condition' Leahy, not Roberts, to preside over impeachment trial MORE (R-Texas). 

But Trump has shown no signs of backing down from trying to sink the bill, and Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman James InhofeJames (Jim) Mountain InhofeOvernight Defense: Austin takes helm at Pentagon | COVID-19 briefing part of Day 1 agenda | Outrage over images of National Guard troops in parking garage Senate confirms Austin to lead Pentagon under Biden Justice Dept. closes insider trading case against Burr without charges MORE (R-Okla.), who spoke with the president this week, said he expects him to veto it. 

The language on Afghanistan temporarily snagged passage of the bill after Sen. Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulSenate to vote Tuesday on Biden's secretary of State pick Leahy, not Roberts, to preside over impeachment trial Sunday shows preview: All eyes on Biden administration to tackle coronavirus MORE (R-Ky.) warned that he was slow-walking the legislation. Paul had wanted leadership to agree to delay the final vote until Monday, an effort leadership said was really an attempt to delay the veto override vote. 

“Our main point in filibustering the defense authorization bill was to point out that the president should have the prerogative to end a war, not just to start wars,” Paul said on Friday. 

Trump’s threat has also complicated support for the defense bill. 

Though House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthyKevin McCarthyCheney spokesperson on Gaetz: 'In Wyoming, the men don't wear make-up' Biden attends first church service as president in DC, stops at local bagel shop House GOP leader says he has 'concerns' over Cheney's impeachment vote MORE (R-Calif.) voted for it this week, he has vowed that he won’t support a veto override.

GOP Sens. Josh HawleyJoshua (Josh) David HawleyTo 'lower the temperature' raise commitments to federalism Leahy, not Roberts, to preside over impeachment trial Beto O'Rourke: Ted Cruz 'guilty of sedition' in Capitol insurrection MORE (R-Mo.) and Tom CottonTom Bryant CottonGOP senator: Impeachment a 'moot point' after Trump's exit Sunday shows preview: All eyes on Biden administration to tackle coronavirus Senate approves waiver for Biden's Pentagon nominee MORE (R-Ark.), two 2024 hopefuls who supported the Senate’s bill earlier this year, warned that they would oppose the final version of the bill. 

“The NDAA does NOT contain any reform to Section 230 but DOES contain Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenTim Ryan says he's 'looking seriously' at running for Portman's Senate seat Leahy, not Roberts, to preside over impeachment trial Skepticism reigns as Biden, McConnell begin new era MORE’s social engineering amendment to unilaterally rename bases & war memorials w/ no public input or process. I cannot support it,” Hawley tweeted, referring to the Massachusetts Democratic senator. 

Cotton said the bill “stiff arms” the president. 

"As this massive bill was written and then rushed to a vote, some seem to have forgotten to consult with the commander in chief or recall that he has a veto power,” Cotton said. 

Neither chamber has been able to successfully override one of Trump’s vetoes during his administration.

But a veto of the defense bill will represent one of the biggest challenges to Trump’s relationships with congressional Republicans to date and comes as he’s already mired in a weeks-long fight over President-elect Joe BidenJoe BidenBudowsky: A Biden-McConnell state of emergency summit DC might win US House vote if it tries Inaugural poet Amanda Gorman inks deal with IMG Models MORE’s victory that has emerged as a division point among GOP lawmakers. 


Top Republicans have hinted they are willing to override a veto in an unprecedented break with Trump, but they are hoping to convince him to back down. 

Rep. Liz CheneyElizabeth (Liz) Lynn CheneyTrump, allies raise pressure on Senate GOP ahead of impeachment Trump establishes 'Office of the Former President' in Florida Cheney spokesperson on Gaetz: 'In Wyoming, the men don't wear make-up' MORE (R-Wyo.), the No. 3 House Republican, said “ the president should not veto it. And we should override.”

And Inhofe — who, like most Republicans, has stuck closely to Trump — has vowed to support a potential veto override. 

“He says he's gonna veto. But he also knows, and I told him how significant it was,” he said. "It's the most important bill of the year.”