Congress barrels toward veto clash with Trump

Congress is preparing for a clash with President TrumpDonald TrumpNYT: Rep. Perry played role in alleged Trump plan to oust acting AG Arizona GOP censures top state Republicans McCain, Flake and Ducey Biden and UK prime minister discuss NATO, multilateralism during call MORE over a mammoth defense bill that could result in the first veto override of his presidency, just a month before he leaves office.

Trump’s threat to veto the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) could scramble Congress’s year-end schedule; lawmakers had been hoping to leave town once they pass a forthcoming deal to fund the government and provide year-end coronavirus relief.

But leaders are warning that if Trump vetoes the bill they are prepared to return to Washington to vote on trying to override. Trump has issued eight vetoes, none of which have been successfully overridden.


House Majority Leader Steny HoyerSteny Hamilton HoyerBudowsky: Democracy won, Trump lost, President Biden inaugurated Congressional leaders present Biden, Harris with flags flown during inauguration LIVE INAUGURATION COVERAGE: Biden signs executive orders; press secretary holds first briefing MORE (D-Md.) and House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam SmithDavid (Adam) Adam SmithOvernight Defense: House approves waiver for Biden's Pentagon nominee | Biden to seek five-year extension of key arms control pact with Russia | Two more US service members killed by COVID-19 House approves waiver for Biden's Pentagon nominee Top Senate Democrat backs waiver for Biden Pentagon nominee MORE (D-Wash.) have indicated that dealing with this particular veto would be worth members flying back D.C.

“It’s not great … timing, traveling during a pandemic and all that. We do have the proxy voting here. But yes, if the president vetoes it, we will come back and vote to override,” Smith told reporters in a recent conference call.

Sen. John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneThe Hill's Morning Report - Biden's crisis agenda hits headwinds Senate chaos threatens to slow Biden's agenda NRSC chair says he'll back GOP incumbents against Trump primary challengers MORE (S.D.), the No. 2 Senate Republican, said that "if the House overrides, we will come back. If they sustain it with their vote, we won’t."

Under the rules governing vetoes, Trump has 10 days, not including Sundays or the day the White House receives a bill, to veto. That means he has until Dec. 23 to veto the NDAA and kick the fight back to Capitol Hill.

If Trump drags out his veto, which lawmakers worry he will, that could set up a rare post-Christmas vote that gives Congress a tight time frame to try to override and get the defense bill, which passed with majority-proof votes initially, into law.

“It seems to me that what he’s doing is waiting until the 23rd,” said 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.). “That’s just a suspicion that I have.”


To successfully override Trump, both the House and Senate would need to vote before noon on Jan. 3, when the 117th Congress will start.

Because the House passed the defense bill first initially, it will need to vote first, and if it falls short, the veto effort in Congress is immediately squashed.

If the House votes to override, a first for Trump, the matter goes to the Senate, where senators say they could hold a final vote on a veto override on the morning of Jan. 3 before the 117th Congress is sworn in.

Opponents of overriding the president’s veto could drag out procedural hurdles by forcing a cloture vote, requiring the override effort to initially get 60 votes, according to the Congressional Research Service. To ultimately override in the Senate, as in the House, will require two-thirds support.

The House would need to send the veto message to the Senate by Dec. 29 to overcome any procedural hurdles and finish by Jan. 3, a Democratic House aide told The Hill.

Lawmakers had hoped a strong enough vote would dissuade Trump from vetoing the bill, which passed the House 335-78 and the Senate 84-13, with GOP senators back-channelling with the president to try to get him to back down.

And they are arguing that a recent massive hack of an IT group that contracts with the government suspected to have been carried out by the Russians only strengthens their case that the bill needs to be quickly signed into law.

“This year’s national defense bill contains over two dozen provisions that would make critical progress in cybersecurity, including provisions that would help ensure the resiliency of our nation’s nuclear command and control systems,” six House Armed Services Committee Republicans, including outgoing ranking member Mac Thonberry (Texas), incoming ranking member Mike RogersMichael (Mike) Dennis RogersOvernight Defense: Trump impeached for second time | National Guard at Capitol now armed, swelling to 20K troops for inauguration | Alabama chosen for Space Command home Top Republican congressional aide resigns, rips GOP lawmakers who objected to Biden win READ: The Republicans who voted to challenge election results MORE (Ala.) and GOP Conference Chairwoman Liz CheneyElizabeth (Liz) Lynn CheneyHouse GOP leader says he has 'concerns' over Cheney's impeachment vote Cheney tests Trump grip on GOP post-presidency GOP senators say only a few Republicans will vote to convict Trump MORE (Wyo.), said in a statement.

But Trump and the White House have doubled down on his threat several times, reiterating his complaints that it would not repeal a tech liability shield, would rename Confederate-named military bases and would put up roadblocks to Trump's orders withdrawing troops from Afghanistan and Germany.

The president also recently added an unspecified gripe that the NDAA is weak on China, despite the fact that the bill would create a $2.2 billion fund specifically to counter China, among other provisions aimed directly at Beijing. Those provisions have been a major selling point for the bill among Republicans.

“I will Veto the Defense Bill, which will make China very unhappy,” Trump tweeted Thursday. “They love it. Must have Section 230 termination, protect our National Monuments and allow for removal of military from far away, and very unappreciative, lands. Thank you!”

Asked this week to explain Trump’s China concerns, White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany pointed back to his demand to repeal Section 230.


Neither the original House-passed defense bill nor the original Senate bill included a repeal or reform of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, a 1996 law that gives online platforms liability protection for content posted by third parties while allowing them to make good-faith content moderation efforts.

Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamTrump selects South Carolina lawyer for impeachment trial Democrats formally elect Harrison as new DNC chair McConnell proposes postponing impeachment trial until February MORE (R-S.C.), a close Trump ally, introduced a stand-alone bill Tuesday that would sunset Section 230 in 2023 and spoke with Trump about the legislation this week.

“If he wants to have a debate and a vote on Section 230 I think we should do that. Is that enough to prevent him from doing the veto, I don’t know,” Graham said of their conversation.

But it’s unlikely Graham’s proposal would get a vote with Congress racing to wrap up its work for the end of the year.

An attempt to override Trump’s veto would force Republicans to pick between siding with the president, who retains a tight grip on the party’s base, or helping pass a defense bill that has been signed into law for the past 59 years.

Two GOP senators, Josh HawleyJoshua (Josh) David HawleyTrump DHS chief argues for swift confirmation of Biden pick amid Hawley hold Overnight Defense: Austin takes helm at Pentagon | COVID-19 briefing part of Day 1 agenda | Outrage over images of National Guard troops in parking garage Ethics complaint filed against Biggs, Cawthorn and Gosar over Capitol riot MORE (Mo.) and Tom CottonTom Bryant CottonSunday shows preview: All eyes on Biden administration to tackle coronavirus Senate approves waiver for Biden's Pentagon nominee House approves waiver for Biden's Pentagon nominee MORE (Ark.), already voted against the final defense bill after supporting the Senate’s initial version. Both are members of the Armed Services Committee and considered potential 2024 presidential candidates.


“I would not vote to override,” Hawley told reporters.

Sen. Ron JohnsonRonald (Ron) Harold JohnsonGOP senators call for commission to investigate Capitol attack Wisconsin Democrats make ad buy calling on Johnson to resign Efforts to secure elections likely to gain ground in Democrat-controlled Congress MORE (R-Wis.), who is up for reelection in 2022 and has been tying himself closely to Trump, declined to say how he would handle a veto of the NDAA.

“I’m hoping he doesn’t veto,” Johnson said, adding that it is “unfortunate” that Trump had tweeted about his veto threat.

Johnson, asked again if he would override, said,  “I’ve got to see what his veto message is.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellBiden leans on Obama-era appointees on climate Kentucky Republican committee rejects resolution urging McConnell to condemn Trump impeachment Calls grow for 9/11-style panel to probe Capitol attack MORE (R-Ky.) hasn’t said how he would handle a veto override attempt.

A veto would likely scramble the overwhelmingly bipartisan coalitions that helped pass the bill earlier this month. While some Democrats who voted against the defense bill have said they will flip to support a veto override, leadership is also expected to lose some Republican votes.


House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthyKevin McCarthyHouse GOP leader says he has 'concerns' over Cheney's impeachment vote McCarthy says he told Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene he disagreed with her impeachment articles against Biden Cheney tests Trump grip on GOP post-presidency MORE (R-Calif.) has said he would vote to sustain Trump's veto, telling reporters that he didn’t believe Republicans “vote to override a veto” of a president they’ve worked with.

Graham also signaled that, for now, he wouldn’t support a veto override unless there’s “some breakthrough” in the tech fight.

"I'm going to stick with the president and his effort to get something done on 230,” he said. “If it takes using the NDAA as leverage so be it.”