Congress delivered a stinging rebuke to President TrumpDonald TrumpJan. 6 panel faces double-edged sword with Alex Jones, Roger Stone Trump goes after Woodward, Costa over China Republicans seem set to win the midterms — unless they defeat themselves 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.
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 McConnellRepublicans seem set to win the midterms — unless they defeat themselves Graham emerges as go-to ally for Biden's judicial picks Five reasons for Biden, GOP to be thankful this season 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 & National Security — Presented by Boeing — Senate punts on defense bill Warren calls for Senate probe of 2019 Syrian airstrike that killed dozens of civilians Standoff scraps quick deal on Senate defense bill before Thanksgiving 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.
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 BidenSouth Africa health minister calls travel bans over new COVID variant 'unjustified' Biden attends tree lighting ceremony after day out in Nantucket Senior US diplomat visiting Southeast Asia to 'reaffirm' relations 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 BraunSchumer-McConnell dial down the debt ceiling drama Cruz, Braun slam Library of Congress for forgoing term 'illegal aliens' to suit 'progressive preference' Overnight Health Care — Presented by Emergent Biosolutions — Pfizer, US strike COVID-19 pill deal MORE (Ind.), Tom CottonTom Bryant CottonGraham emerges as go-to ally for Biden's judicial picks China draws scrutiny over case of tennis star Peng Shuai Biden says he's 'considering' a diplomatic boycott of Beijing Olympics MORE (Ark.), Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzGOP holds on Biden nominees set back gains for women in top positions Advocates see pilot program to address inequalities from highways as crucial first step Ted Cruz ribs Newsom over vacation in Mexico: 'Cancun is much nicer than Cabo' MORE (Texas), Josh HawleyJoshua (Josh) David HawleyGOP holds on Biden nominees set back gains for women in top positions Graham emerges as go-to ally for Biden's judicial picks The GOP's post-1/6 playbook is clear — and it's dangerous MORE (Mo.), John KennedyJohn Neely KennedyMORE (La.), Mike LeeMichael (Mike) Shumway LeeThe congressional debate over antitrust: It's about time McConnell looks for way out of debt ceiling box Senators make bipartisan push to block 0M weapons sale to Saudis MORE (Utah) and Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulFauci overwhelmed by calls after journal published mistake over beagle experiments McConnell looks for way out of debt ceiling box Senators make bipartisan push to block 0M weapons sale to Saudis 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 GrahamGraham emerges as go-to ally for Biden's judicial picks This Thanksgiving, skip the political food fights and talk UFOs instead Biden move to tap oil reserves draws GOP pushback 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 LoefflerSenate GOP worries Trump could derail bid for majority Perdue mulling primary challenge against Kemp in Georgia: report McConnell backs Herschel Walker in Georgia Senate race MORE (Ga.) and David PerdueDavid PerdueThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by ExxonMobil - Gosar censured as GOP drama heightens Perdue on possible run for Georgia governor: 'I'm concerned about the state of our state' Kemp makes pitch to conservatives, independents in new campaign ad 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.
“I think it was more about making a statement than anything else,” said Sen. John CornynJohn CornynMental health: The power of connecting requires the power of investing Senators call for Smithsonian Latino, women's museums to be built on National Mall Cornyn says he 'would be surprised' if GOP tries to unseat Sinema in 2024 MORE (R-Texas.).
Sen. John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneParnell exit threatens to hurt Trump's political clout Schumer-McConnell dial down the debt ceiling drama McConnell, Schumer hunt for debt ceiling off-ramp 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 CramerAdvocates see pilot program to address inequalities from highways as crucial first step The Memo: Rising costs a growing threat for Biden GOP senator: Decisions on bills not made based on if they hurt or help Trump or Biden 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 CheneyThe GOP's post-1/6 playbook is clear — and it's dangerous Trump allies leaning on his executive privilege claims Two Fox News contributors quit over Tucker Carlson's Jan. 6 documentary MORE (Wyo.), the No. 3 House Republican and highest-ranking GOP woman, voting to override and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthyKevin McCarthyWith extreme gerrymanders locking in, Biden needs to make democracy preservation job one Greene: McCarthy 'doesn't have the full support to be Speaker' Christie: McCarthy, not Trump, will be the next Speaker MORE (R-Calif.) sticking with Trump.
But in many ways the veto override was pre-baked.
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.