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Congress overrides Trump veto for the first time

Congress delivered a stinging rebuke to 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 during a rare New Year's Day session Friday, handing him his first veto override in the final days of his administration.

The GOP-controlled Senate voted 81-13 to override Trump’s veto of a mammoth defense bill, well above the two-thirds support necessary, underscoring the depth of disagreement between the two sides of Pennsylvania Avenue.

The House voted 322-87 earlier this week to nix Trump’s veto of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which greenlights spending levels and lays out policy for the Pentagon.

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It caps off a chaotic session for Congress that started with the longest government shutdown in modern history, included an impeachment trial and is now closing in a rare rebuke of Trump. In addition to the veto fight, which was the last vote of the 116th Congress, Senate Republicans effectively killed the president’s demand for an increase in recently-passed stimulus checks, and next week Congress will ultimately reject a long-shot attempt by conservatives to hand the election to Trump.

“It’s a serious responsibility,” 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.) said about the bill on Friday. “But it’s also a tremendous opportunity: to direct our national security priorities to reflect the resolve of the American people and the evolving threats to their safety, at home and abroad.”

The veto fight over the NDAA is in many ways a culmination of years-long, deep divisions between Congress and the president when it comes to defense and national security policy, which started almost as soon as Trump took over the White House with a months-long fight over Russia sanctions.

“President Trump tried to make this vote a loyalty test and an overwhelming majority of U.S. Senators demonstrated their loyalty to the common defense and to the men and women of the United States Armed Forces who defend our nation. ... This vote was undoubtedly a bipartisan rebuke of President Trump.  He tried to use our troops as political pawns and distort what this bill is about. In the end, he lost," Sen. Jack ReedJack ReedOvernight 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 Senate approves waiver for Biden's Pentagon nominee MORE (D-R.I.) said in a statement after Friday's vote. 

The president warned for months that he would veto the defense bill, which will now become law for the 60th year in a row, over language included in both the initial House and Senate bills requiring the Pentagon to change the names of Confederate-named military bases and installations.

As it became increasingly clear that Congress was moving forward with the bill, Trump also lashed out at the legislation because it did not include a repeal of Section 230, a legal shield for tech companies, which GOP lawmakers argued was not related to the defense bill.

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Trump’s veto statement also took aim at other parts of the legislation, including restrictions on his ability to remove troops from Afghanistan and Germany.

“My Administration has taken strong actions to help keep our Nation safe and support our service members. I will not approve this bill, which would put the interests of the Washington, D.C. establishment over those of the American people,” he wrote.

Trump’s decision to veto the bill — which came a day after McConnell publicly said he hoped the president would back down — forced Republicans to decide in the administration’s twilight whether to stick with a bill that initially passed with veto-proof majorities or side with the president, who maintains a vise-like grip on the party’s base.

Trump, while largely focused on challenging President-elect Joe BidenJoe BidenDC residents jumped at opportunity to pay for meals for National Guardsmen Joe Biden might bring 'unity' – to the Middle East Biden shouldn't let defeating cancer take a backseat to COVID MORE's win, lashed out this week at congressional Republicans, tweeting that “weak and tired Republican ‘leadership’ will allow the bad Defense Bill to pass.”

“Negotiate a better Bill, or get better leaders, NOW! Senate should not approve NDAA until fixed!!!” he added.

More than 100 Republican lawmakers in the House ultimately broke with Trump to support the veto override earlier this week. On Friday, only seven of the Senate's 52 GOP senators voted to uphold Trump's veto: Mike BraunMichael BraunBiden signals he's willing to delay Trump trial McConnell proposes postponing impeachment trial until February The Hill's Morning Report - Biden takes office, calls for end to 'uncivil war' MORE (Ind.), 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.), Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzBiden leans on Obama-era appointees on climate Ethics complaint filed against Biggs, Cawthorn and Gosar over Capitol riot Hawley, Cruz see approval ratings dip in wake of Capitol riot: poll MORE (Texas), 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.), John KennedyJohn Neely KennedyMORE (La.), Mike LeeMichael (Mike) Shumway LeeOvernight Defense: Austin takes helm at Pentagon | COVID-19 briefing part of Day 1 agenda | Outrage over images of National Guard troops in parking garage Austin sworn in as nation's first Black Pentagon chief The Hill's 12:30 Report: Next steps in the Trump impeachment MORE (Utah) and Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulSunday shows preview: All eyes on Biden administration to tackle coronavirus The Hill's Morning Report - Biden takes office, calls for end to 'uncivil war' Senate confirms Biden's intel chief, giving him first Cabinet official MORE (Ky.). 

No senator spoke against the defense bill before the Senate voted to override the president's veto, though a handful spoke briefly in favor of it. The seven Republicans who voted "no" were the same Republicans who voted against the final NDAA last month, meaning Trump didn't pick up any GOP support to try to prevent the override after vetoing the bill. 

Some Republican senators did flip their vote to support Trump's veto after they had initially supported the defense bill’s passage over the summer.

Cruz, Cotton and Hawley each initially voted for the Senate's bill in July but flipped and opposed the final version, which is worked out as a compromise between the House and Senate. 

"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 during a Senate floor speech last month explaining his decision to oppose the final bill. 

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.), who supported the NDAA in both July and December, had indicated that he would oppose overriding Trump's veto but didn't vote on Friday. GOP Sens. Kelly LoefflerKelly LoefflerLimbaugh falsely says Biden didn't win legitimately while reacting to inauguration Suburbs pose challenge for GOP in post-Trump era Democrats swear in three senators to gain majority MORE (Ga.) and David PerdueDavid PerdueSuburbs pose challenge for GOP in post-Trump era Democrats swear in three senators to gain majority Schumer becomes new Senate majority leader MORE (Ga.), who face runoff elections on Tuesday, also didn't vote, though Perdue is in quarantine after coming in contact with an individual who tested positive for the coronavirus. 

Several GOP senators told The Hill that they had not heard from Trump or the White House in the days leading up to Friday’s vote trying to sway them to vote against the override.

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“I think it was more about making a statement than anything else,” said Sen. John CornynJohn CornynTrump impeachment trial to begin week of Feb. 8 Limbaugh falsely says Biden didn't win legitimately while reacting to inauguration Top Texas Democratic Party staffers to step down after underwhelming election results MORE (R-Texas.).

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 he had not heard from the White House about trying to get him to change his vote and he didn’t know of any other Senate Republicans who had heard from the administration either.

Sen. Kevin CramerKevin John CramerGroup of GOP senators seeks to block Biden moves on Paris, Keystone McConnell faces conservative backlash over Trump criticism McConnell keeps GOP guessing on Trump impeachment MORE (R-N.D.), who is close to Trump, said he has "never been lobbied" by the White House or Trump on the defense bill. 

"My observation and my theory on this is — I actually think this is one situation where the president was able to have it both ways. He could make his point and know that the military would still get its authorization," Cramer said. 

In the House, the veto split GOP leadership, with Rep. 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.), the No. 3 House Republican and highest-ranking GOP woman, voting to override and 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.) sticking with Trump. 

But in many ways the veto override was pre-baked.  

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House Democratic leadership had signaled for weeks that they expected to override Trump’s veto, marking the first time either chamber had a successful override vote. Before the NDAA fight Trump had issued eight vetoes, none of which had been successfully challenged by the House or Senate. 

And McConnell took much of the drama out of the Senate action when he signaled earlier this week that he believed he had the votes to override Trump’s veto. 

"For the brave men and women of the United States armed forces, failure is simply not an option. So when it's our time in Congress to have their backs, failure is not an option either," McConnell said. "I would urge my Republican colleagues to support this legislation one more time when we vote."

Including Friday, Congress has overridden 112 vetoes throughout U.S. history. The last time a president’s veto was overridden was in September 2016 when then-President Obama opposed a bill allowing families of 9/11 victims to sue Saudi Arabia.

Trump is the first president to get a veto overridden during his first four years since President Clinton.

—Updated at 3:12 p.m.