Overnight Defense: Defense bill moving forward despite Trump veto threat over tech fight | Government funding bill hits snag | Top general talks Afghanistan, Pentagon budget

Overnight Defense: Defense bill moving forward despite Trump veto threat over tech fight | Government funding bill hits snag | Top general talks Afghanistan, Pentagon budget
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Happy Wednesday and welcome to Overnight Defense. I'm Rebecca Kheel, and here's your nightly guide to the latest developments at the Pentagon, on Capitol Hill and beyond. CLICK HERE to subscribe to the newsletter.

THE TOPLINE: Lawmakers are forging ahead with the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) even as President TrumpDonald TrumpFacebook temporarily bans ads for weapons accessories following Capitol riots Sasse, in fiery op-ed, says QAnon is destroying GOP Section 230 worked after the insurrection, but not before: How to regulate social media MORE issues a new veto threat over something that didn’t make it into the compromise bill.

On Tuesday night, Trump tweeted he would veto the NDAA if it does not repeal Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, a key liability protection for online platforms.

But on Wednesday, lawmakers announced that they had reached a compromise on the NDAA that doesn’t include anything on Section 230.

In announcing that a compromise was reached, Reps. Adam SmithDavid (Adam) Adam SmithOvernight Defense: Pentagon watchdog to probe extremism in US military | FBI chief warns of 'online chatter' ahead of inauguration | House conservative bloc opposes Austin waiver Conservative caucus opposes waiver for Biden's Pentagon pick 'I saw my life flash before my eyes': An oral history of the Capitol attack MORE (D-Wash.) and Mac ThornberryWilliam (Mac) McClellan ThornberryUnnamed law enforcement banned under the new NDAA Lobbying world Senate poised to override Trump's defense bill veto MORE (R-Texas), the chairman and ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee, respectively, said in a joint statement that the “time has come” to put aside “policy objectives and partisan preferences” and pass the NDAA.

The compromise bill also includes something else Trump previously threatened to veto -- a requirement to rename Confederate-named military bases.

As of this writing, congressional negotiators were in the process of meeting to sign the compromise, known as a conference report.

Trump’s threat: “Section 230, which is a liability shielding gift from the U.S. to 'Big Tech' (the only companies in America that have it - corporate welfare!), is a serious threat to our National Security & Election Integrity. Our Country can never be safe & secure if we allow it to stand,” Trump tweeted Tuesday.

“Therefore, if the very dangerous & unfair Section 230 is not completely terminated as part of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), I will be forced to unequivocally VETO the Bill when sent to the very beautiful Resolute desk. Take back America NOW. Thank you!” Trump added.

Section 230 is a 1996 law that gives online platforms liability protection for content posted by third parties while also allowing them to make good-faith content moderation efforts.

Trump and his Republican allies argue the law allows social media companies to discriminate against conservative content, a claim that has not been substantiated.

Trump’s fixation with the law started in May after Twitter appended labels to a few of his posts alleging without evidence that mail-in voting is fraudulent.

Soon after the first label was applied, Trump signed an executive order targeting the law considered a bedrock of the modern internet. That order is likely to be either defeated in the courts or simply ignored by President-elect Joe BidenJoe BidenMissouri woman seen with Pelosi sign charged in connection with Capitol riots Facebook temporarily bans ads for weapons accessories following Capitol riots Sasse, in fiery op-ed, says QAnon is destroying GOP MORE.

About the bases: The deal on Confederate bases mirrors language the Senate approved in July, said House aides and Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Jim InhofeJames (Jim) Mountain InhofeMcConnell about to school Trump on political power for the last time 'I saw my life flash before my eyes': An oral history of the Capitol attack Republican senators now regret not doing more to contain Trump MORE (R-Okla.) and Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenPorter loses seat on House panel overseeing financial sector OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Nine, including former Michigan governor, charged over Flint water crisis | Regulator finalizes rule forcing banks to serve oil, gun companies | Trump admin adds hurdle to increase efficiency standards for furnaces, water heaters DeVos mulled unilateral student loan forgiveness as COVID-19 wracked economy: memo MORE (D-Mass.), who authored the Senate language.

The Senate version mandated changes in three years, as well as created a commission tasked with developing a plan to “remove names, symbols, displays, monuments or paraphernalia that commemorate the Confederate States of America or any person who served voluntarily with the Confederate States of America.” 

Republicans tell Trump not to tank bill: Republicans on Wednesday signaled that Trump should not sink the NDAA over his fight with tech companies, with several top GOP senators are warning that the defense bill isn’t the right arena for Trump to dig in on the tech battle, which has emerged as a top target for the president and conservative allies.

“230 has nothing to do with the military,” said Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman James Inhofe (R-Okla.). "I agree with his sentiments ... but you can’t do it in this bill. That’s not a part of the bill.”

Sen. Mike Rounds (R-S.D.), a member of the Armed Services Committee, said he thought Trump was trying to express his frustration related to Section 230.

"I would hope that he would not actually follow through with that because the NDAA is critical," he said about the veto threat.

Sen. John Thune (S.D.), the No. 2 Senate Republican, said that there was broad interest in reforming Section 230, but pointed to the Commerce Committee as the best area to take that up. He said he hoped the defense bill would be passed and signed into law without "a lot of drama.”

"I don't think the defense bill is the place to litigate that," Thune said. "There will be enormous support for getting the defense authorization bill passed and hopefully signed into law."

FUNDING SNAG: The NDAA isn’t the only bill hitting a snag.

A top Senate Republican on Wednesday said Congress will likely need a stopgap bill amid a myriad of last-minute snags that are threatening quick passage of a mammoth spending bill to fund the government. 

Congress has until Dec. 11 to pass an omnibus, which would wrap all 12 fiscal 2021 bills into one, but Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard ShelbyRichard Craig ShelbyMcConnell about to school Trump on political power for the last time Overnight Defense: Trump impeached for second time | National Guard at Capitol now armed, swelling to 20K troops for inauguration | Alabama chosen for Space Command home Space Command to be located in Alabama MORE (R-Ala.) says he doesn’t think negotiators will make their deadline.

“Will we do it by the ninth? I’d like so but probably not. There’s some challenges that have got to be dealt with,” Shelby said, regarding the mammoth government funding deal. “That’s ticking away fast now.”

Shelby said Congress will need to make a decision on whether or not they need a continuing resolution (CR) by Dec. 9, so that they can pass it by Dec. 11. He added that a CR was “where we’re headed at the moment.”

What’s the hold up?: The growing chances for a CR come as omnibus negotiations have gotten bogged down in a myriad of perennial sticking points including a fight over Veterans Affairs healthcare funding, the border wall and money for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention beds.

Lawmakers are also making a last-ditch effort to try to get some amount of coronavirus relief into the government funding deal.

“There’s a lot of things that haven’t been resolved. I think we’ll get it done, but you never know around here. All of you have seen bad days,” Shelby said.

MILLEY SPEAKS: The top general in the U.S. military said Wednesday the U.S. military has achieved “a modicum of success” with its nearly 20-year presence in Afghanistan.

“We went to Afghanistan ... to ensure that Afghanistan never again became a platform for terrorists to strike against the United States,” Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Mark Milley said during a virtual Brookings Institute event. “And to a large measure we have been, at least to date, successful in preventing that from happening again.”

But he allowed that in the last five to seven years, the U.S. military has been in a stalemate “where the government of Afghanistan was never going to militarily defeat the Taliban,” and the Taliban, as long as the United States supports the Afghanistan government, “is never going to militarily defeat the regime.”

“We believe that now after 20 years, two decades of consistent effort there, we’ve achieved a modicum of success,” Milley said.

The United States has spent more than $1 trillion on the war in Afghanistan, with more than 2,400 U.S. troops killed and almost 21,000 wounded.

On the budget: Milley also said the Pentagon needs a “reality check” in crafting the next several defense budgets as other needs facing the U.S. like tackling the coronavirus pandemic take center stage.

“We have to tighten up and take a much harder look at priorities,” he said.

He estimated that the Pentagon’s budgets will start to flatten out in the next administration with “a reasonable prospect that they could actually decline significantly, depending on what happens.”

Budget experts long expected defense spending to be flat or decline in 2021, depending on who won the White House.

But with President-elect Joe Biden soon to take office, Democrats are expected to tussle among themselves over whether to keep funding steady or to slash it significantly.

Milley said an ideal spending situation would be a 3 to 5 percent year-over-year growth to keep up Pentagon modernization and readiness programs, “but that’s also not necessarily going to happen, and I don’t anticipate that it will happen.”


Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Mark MilleyMark MilleyPelosi's risky blunder: Talking about Trump and nuclear war Overnight Defense: Joint Chiefs denounce Capitol attack | Contractors halt donations after siege | 'QAnon Shaman' at Capitol is Navy vet Joint Chiefs denounce 'sedition and insurrection' of Capitol attack MORE, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Michael Gilday and Marine Corps Commandant Gen. David Berger and other officers will speak at the U.S. Naval Institute's virtual Defense Forum Washington 2020 starting at 9 a.m. https://bit.ly/39xRrIh

The House Foreign Affairs Committee will hold a hearing on Western Hemisphere drug policy at 10 a.m. https://bit.ly/2KQYpO3

A House Foreign Affairs subcommittee will hold a hearing on the conflict in Ethiopia at 2 p.m. https://bit.ly/39w5IFk


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