White House threatens to veto $733B defense policy bill

The White House on Tuesday threatened to veto a massive defense policy bill being considered by the House this week.

The top concern cited by the White House in a statement was the bill’s $733 billion value, which is $17 billion less than the White House requested for fiscal 2020.

If the House version of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) “were presented to the president in its current form, his advisors would recommend that he veto it,” the statement of administration policy said.

“While the administration appreciates the House Armed Services Committee’s (Committee) investments in key national security priorities and its support for the men and women of the Armed Forces and their families, H.R. 2500 includes a number of provisions that raise deep concerns,” the statement added.

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The veto threat of a bill filled with Democratic priorities is unsurprising, but it could strengthen Republicans’ hands as they push for changes in the House version of the legislation and when the measure is negotiated in the GOP-led Senate.

Democrats are searching for votes to pass the bill out of the House as progressives balk at a $733 billion figure they feel is too high.

It is not uncommon for presidents to threaten to veto the annual defense bill. Former President Obama threatened to veto every NDAA that was sent to him. He only did so once, in 2015, and signed a different version of the bill later that year.

This year, several provisions in the House bill seek to restrict President TrumpDonald John TrumpFive landmark moments of testimony to Congress Lindsey Graham basks in the impeachment spotlight Democrats sharpen their message on impeachment MORE’s ability to transfer money from the Pentagon to build his proposed border wall, as well as limit his ability to send troops to the border.

Tuesday’s 10-page statement said the administration “strongly objects” to the border-related provisions.

The NDAA would also block the deployment of a new submarine-launched low-yield nuclear warhead, another provision the White House “strongly objects” to.

Democrats argue the new warhead increases the risk of stumbling into nuclear war, while the administration argued it is “a measured response to a real-world escalatory threat.”

“Blocking deployment would send a dangerous message to potential adversaries, many of whom are investing in their own modernization priorities, that the United States is incapable of adjusting its nuclear posture despite a worsening nuclear environment,” the statement said.

The White House also said it opposes provisions that would eliminate funding to develop responses for after the United States withdraws from the Cold War-era Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty and prohibit funding to withdraw the United States from the Open Skies Treaty.

The INF Treaty bans the United States and Russia from having ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles of certain ranges. The Trump administration is set to withdraw in August as a response to repeated Russian violations.

Open Skies, meanwhile, is a multilateral treaty that allows signatories to fly unarmed observation flights over other signatories’ territory. Republicans allege Russia is also violating that treaty.

The White House statement argued that eliminating the INF response funding would lead NATO allies to “question our resolve in ensuring Russia cannot achieve a military advantage through its violation of the treaty.” On Open Skies, the White House said it is the president’s “sole constitutional authority to suspend, terminate or withdraw from a treaty.”

The bill would also prohibit new transfers into the Guantánamo Bay detention facility. While the Trump administration has not sent any new detainees to the facility, the White House argued the provision would force the Pentagon to “conduct long-term detention of such detainees in-theater or in the continental United States, repatriate them to third countries, or release detainees.”