Trump signs defense bill creating Space Force

President Trump signed the annual defense policy bill Friday night, establishing his much-touted Space Force and giving federal workers 12 weeks of paid parental leave.

Trump signed the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) at a ceremony at Joint Base Andrews before leaving for Mar-a-Lago for the holidays.

The $738 billion compromise bill gave all parties something to crow about after months of negotiations between the Democratic-controlled House, the Republican-led Senate and the White House that got bogged down in debates about Trump’s border wall.

Signing it also provided Trump the opportunity to tout achieving some of his top priorities at the end of a week that saw him become the third president in American history to be impeached.

“This is a truly historic day for the American Armed Forces,” said Trump, who mostly stuck to his script on Friday evening. “In just a few minutes I will proudly sign into law the largest ever investment in the United States military. In fact, I can say largest ever by far. Today also marks another landmark achievement as we officially inaugurate the newest branch of our military. This is a very big and important moment.”

“Today’s signing of the 2020 NDAA is a watershed event in the truest sense of the word,” he added later.

In a win for Trump, the NDAA establishes Space Force as the sixth branch of the U.S. military, with a goal of protecting U.S. assets in space from threats from Russia and China. The new service will be part of the Department of the Air Force in a structure similar to the Marine Corps relationship to the Navy and will be led by a four-star chief of space operations.

At Friday’s ceremony, Trump officially announced he would nominate Gen. John Raymond to be the chief of space operations. Raymond is currently the commander of U.S. Space Command.

“For the first time since President Harry Truman created the Air Force over 70 years ago — think of that — we will create a brand new American military service. That’s such a momentous statement,” Trump said. “With my signature today, you will witness the birth of the Space Force, and that will be now officially the sixth branch of the United States Armed Forces. That is something really incredible. It’s a big moment. That’s a big moment, and we’re all here for it. Space, going to be a lot of things happening in space.”

Trump floated establishing a Space Force in 2018, and it has since become a top priority and reliable applause line at his rallies. But the idea for a separate military service for space originated as a bipartisan proposal in the House in 2017.

Meanwhile, Democrats have trumpeted the NDAA’s inclusion of paid parental leave as a major win. The bill gives all federal employees 12 weeks of paid parental leave in what’s being touted as a historic deal to give the benefit to more than 2 million Americans for the first time.

Trump, whose daughter and adviser Ivanka Trump has made paid family leave a signature issue, also counted the parental leave policy as a win for him.

“After years of unrealized promises by other politicians, I honor my commitment today as I sign paid parental leave for the federal civilian work force,” Trump said, adding it’s a “very big thing” that “they’ve been trying to get for many years.”

Ivanka Trump was at Friday’s ceremony, as was first lady Melania Trump, who introduced her husband and wished the audience of troops a merry Christmas.

The Trumps were also joined by several administration officials, including Vice President Pence, Defense Secretary Mark Esper and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Mark Milley, as well as several Republican congressmen.

Despite the provisions broadly hailed by Trump and Democrats, members of both parties also had gripes with the defense bill. 

Fiscal conservatives in Congress balked at the price tag, particularly the parental leave policy that the Congressional Budget Office estimated could cost $3.3 billion over the next five years. Progressives, meanwhile, felt burned that most of their priorities were stripped from the bill during negotiations.

The final NDAA eliminated House-passed provisions that would have blocked Trump from dipping into Pentagon funds for his border wall, reversed Trump’s transgender military ban, blocked Trump from taking military action against Iran, cut off U.S. support for the Saudi-led war in Yemen, forced the cleanup of cancer-linked “forever chemicals” called PFAS, blocked the deployment of the low-yield nuclear warhead and banned new transfers to the Guantanamo Bay detention center.

Ultimately, though, the bill passed Congress with large bipartisan majorities, 86-8 in the Senate and 377-48 in the House.

Updated: 8:40 p.m.

Tags Donald Trump Ivanka Trump Mark Esper Melania Trump NDAA Space force

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