Senate poised to override Trump’s defense bill veto
The Senate appears poised to override President Trump’s veto of a defense policy bill, handing the president a stinging rebuke in the final days of his administration.
The issue is likely to come to a head either on New Year’s Day or the following day in a rare Saturday vote, with a group of lawmakers threatening to drag out the veto fight as they try to leverage the $740 billion defense measure into getting a vote on the House-passed stimulus checks bill.
But Republicans are making clear they expect to have the two-thirds majority votes needed to nix Trump’s veto of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), marking the first time in four years that Congress has been able to successfully override Trump.
“Soon this important legislation will be passed into law. … For the brave men and women of the United States armed forces, failure is not an option. So when it is our turn in Congress to have their backs, failure is not an option here either. I urge my colleagues to support this legislation one more time,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said from the Senate floor on Tuesday.
Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), an adviser to McConnell, added that he would vote to override Trump’s veto later this week.
“We know the president has the constitutional authority to veto any bill for virtually any reason, and he has exercised that power with this legislation. The reasons the president has given I don’t think are frivolous at all. They just shouldn’t be tagged to this particular piece of legislation,” Cornyn said.
Trump vetoed the NDAA on Dec. 23 after warning for weeks that he would not support the legislation because it does not repeal what’s known as Section 230 — a provision from a 1996 law providing a legal shield for tech companies that has emerged as a fixation for the president — and requires Confederate-named bases and military installations be renamed.
The bill also sparked Trump’s ire because it puts limits on his ability to withdraw troops from Afghanistan and Germany, two decisions that divide the president and congressional Republicans.
The veto fight is the latest foreign policy battle between the two ends of Pennsylvania Avenue. Congress previously passed Russia sanctions in 2017 over his objection, supported language in 2019 to try to warn him off drawing back in Syria and publicly lamented the loss of former Defense Secretary James Mattis, who aligns more with their worldview than Trump.
Senate Republicans also back-channeled with the White House earlier this month, warning Trump about the defense bill’s broad support on Capitol Hill as they tried to talk him out of vetoing it. McConnell, in a middle of the night speech a day before Trump’s veto, said, “I hope the president will not veto this bill,” but warned publicly that if he did, the Senate was prepared to return for a rare post-Christmas session to deal with it.
Trump appeared to acknowledge his likely defeat when he lashed out at Republican leadership on Tuesday in a tweet — one of several fronts where he’s battling with congressional Republicans.
“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!!!” Trump tweeted.
But Congress appears poised to ignore him.
The House vote on Monday was the first time either chamber has been able to successfully override a Trump veto, with 109 GOP lawmakers breaking with the president to support the bill.
House Armed Services Committee ranking member Mac Thornberry (R-Texas) urged Republicans to ignore the political fight as they weighed whether to override Trump’s veto.
“I would only ask that as members vote, they put the best interests of the country first. … There is no other consideration that should matter,” Thornberry said.
Trump faces an uphill climb to prevent a veto override. The Senate passed the NDAA in an 84-13 vote earlier this month. Some of the six Democratic senators who voted against the bill said they will flip and support overriding Trump.
On the GOP side, Sen. Lindsey Graham (S.C.) is the only Republican who voted for the defense bill earlier this month to say they will not support overriding the veto.
The veto showdown will also put GOP Sens. Kelly Loeffler (Ga.) and David Perdue (Ga.) in a political bind. The two senators are just days away from runoff elections that will determine which party controls the Senate for the next two years. They’ve stuck close to Trump, including coming out in support of his push to increase the amount of direct stimulus payments from $600 to $2,000, as they’ve tried to drive high turnout amongst his supporters.
But several other Republicans — including members of leadership like Sens. John Thune (S.D.) and Roy Blunt (Mo.), the No. 2 and No. 4 Republican senators respectively — are poised to vote to override Trump’s veto. Others, including Sens. Dan Sullivan (Alaska), Mike Rounds (S.D.), John Boozman (Ark.) and Susan Collins (Maine), are also expected to support overriding the veto.
“The NDAA represents one of Congress’ most important responsibilities. For the past 59 consecutive years, Congress has come together in a bipartisan manner to craft this annual legislation,” Collins said in a statement.
Including the defense bill, Trump has issued nine vetoes during his White House tenure. Before the defense fight, neither chamber was able to override a veto. The closest the Senate has come was during two 2019 override efforts — one related to U.S. support for Saudi Arabia’s actions in Yemen and the second related to the border wall — which both garnered 53 votes.
Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman James Inhofe (R-Okla.) said he was “disappointed” in Trump’s veto. But he stressed that the veto override was about the bill’s importance, not a reflection of Trump, whose accomplishments he read off in a list at the tail end of a floor speech.
“I’m here today because we have to pass the NDAA. … It’s necessary to have. It’s the most important bill of the year,” he said. “The NDAA is so significant right now. … That’s what this vote is all about.”
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