Congress dares Trump to veto defense bill
Congress is barreling toward a veto showdown with President Trump over the mammoth must-pass annual defense policy bill.
The House is scheduled to take up the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) on Tuesday, and the Senate is expected to follow shortly after.
Both chambers are expected to have strong bipartisan votes in favor, even as Trump has repeatedly threatened to veto the $740 billion measure.
Lawmakers are holding out hope Trump will back down if the bill passes with more than two-thirds support in each chamber, the amount needed to override a veto.
But if he follows through with his threat, it’s unclear how many Republicans would buck Trump and hand him the first veto override of his presidency.
“I’m hoping for a strong vote tomorrow. I think the stronger the vote, the less chance of having to deal with a veto later,” Rep. Mac Thornberry (Texas), the top Republican on the House Armed Services Committee, told reporters Monday, adding that he does not believe Trump’s threat is “empty.”
But pressed on whether any of his Republican colleagues could flip their vote when it comes to overriding Trump, Thornberry said, “It’s possible.”
“All members have to bear the consequences of a ‘no’ vote,” Thornberry warned. “And one of the consequences is that military pay is going to go down, that we are going to forgo a lot of important bipartisan steps to better compete with the threat from China.”
Trump has threatened to veto the NDAA over two particular provisions.
First, the bill would require the Pentagon to rename Confederate-named military bases and other property in three years and set up a commission to plan how to carry out those changes.
Trump argues that changing the names “desecrates” the bases, but lawmakers in both parties see it as past due as the military and the nation grapple with racism and the legacy of slavery.
Trump is also threatening to veto the bill because it does not include a repeal 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.
Trump, who became fixated on Section 230 after Twitter started adding corrective labels to his unsubstantiated posts alleging widespread voter fraud, demanded late in the negotiations that Congress add a repeal of the decades-old statute to the NDAA. But lawmakers on both sides of the aisle argue the NDAA is not the place to address a tech issue that has little if anything to do with national security.
The NDAA, which has become law 59 years in a row, is considered must-pass because it authorizes dozens of special pay and bonuses for service members, as well as military construction projects and training programs.
Presidents often threaten to veto the NDAA without following through. Former President Obama threatened to veto it every year of his tenure, but only did so once over a budget dispute and later signed a revised version of that year’s NDAA after Congress reached a broader budget agreement.
For this year’s NDAA, the House and Senate both passed their initial versions of the bill in July with more than two-thirds approval. The Senate voted 86-14, while the House passed theirs 295-125.
Thornberry predicted more House Republicans will vote for the compromise bill Tuesday than the initial July version because some provisions the GOP opposed “have gone away.”
House and Senate Armed Services leaders on both sides of the aisle have also communicated to the White House about the possibility of an override, Thornberry said.
“Other than a couple of senators running for president, which we all need to take with a grain of salt, I don’t know of anybody who’s saying, ‘Yeah, this is the time and the way to deal with liability of social media companies,’ ” Thornberry added.
Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), seen as a possible 2024 presidential hopeful, has said he will not support the bill because it excludes Section 230 language and includes the Confederate base names language.
Hawley said Monday that Section 230 was one of several topics he spoke with Trump about Saturday as the president flew back to Washington from a rally in Georgia.
“I take what he says at face value,” Hawley said of the veto threat. “It seems that he’s very committed to this.”
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) has also said he supports Trump’s insistence on putting a Section 230 repeal in the NDAA, saying, “It is our best chance to change course while we still can.”
“I take a back seat to no one when it comes to supporting our nation’s military,” Graham tweeted. “However, Section 230 is allowing America to be fundamentally changed as it relates to the flow of information.”
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) told Bloomberg News last week the lower chamber has the votes to override Trump, adding in a floor speech Friday that he looks forward to the NDAA “overwhelmingly passing both chambers next week and, if necessary, overriding a threatened veto by President Trump.”
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said in a floor speech Monday the Senate will pass the NDAA this week. Sen. John Thune (S.D.), the No. 2 Republican in the chamber, said he expects a “big” vote this week, but demurred when asked if they’ll have the votes to override a veto.
A source close to the administration told The Hill that “it seems like” Congress is “prepared to override a veto.”
“The hope is to have a big vote [in favor of the NDAA] to deter Trump from issuing a veto,” the source added.
A second person close to the administration said some of Trump’s aides are urging him to veto the bill but predicted he wouldn’t follow through amid the pushback.
Some Republicans have indicated they would vote to override Trump’s veto.
“We need to pay our troops. We need defense,” Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) said on “Fox News Sunday” when asked if he would override a veto. “My inclination would be to always vote for the troops and to vote for our national security, but to look for another vehicle to address the Section 230 issues that are so important to the president.”
“I haven’t done a whip count, but we all recognize the world is an increasingly dangerous place,” Cassidy added when asked about whether Republicans would vote to override Trump.
Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.) has explicitly said he “will vote to override,” saying in a tweet responding to Trump’s veto threat that “it’s really not about you.”
Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) declined Monday to say whether he supports trying to override a veto, but added, “Obviously I want the bill to pass.” In July, Grassley predicted the Senate would “probably” override an NDAA veto.
Another issue with overriding a veto is the calendar. The House and Senate are slated to leave town next week until January if they pass a government funding bill, and lawmakers would have to start from scratch on the bill if it doesn’t become law before the new Congress is sworn in early next month.
But Hoyer and House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith (D-Wash.) both told reporters Monday that Congress would return to town if Trump vetoes the NDAA.
Citing conversations with Republicans, Smith also said GOP lawmakers “strongly support this bill.”
“If the president vetoes it, we will come back to vote to override,” Smith said. “There’s not a single member of this Congress who can’t vote for this bill in good conscience and feel good about it, in my humble opinion. So we should pass it, and if it takes two-thirds to pass it because the president is being unreasonable, then we will get that.”
Brett Samuels and Jordain Carney contributed.
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