- President Donald Trump on Wednesday vetoed a $741 billion defense bill, setting up a showdown with Congress.
- The bill — the National Defense Authorization Act — passed with a veto-proof majority in both chambers.
- Trump has taken issue with the bill because it does not address his assertion that social media companies are biased against conservatives, which is unrelated to national defense.
- By vetoing the bill, Trump has pitted himself against top Republicans in the final days of his presidency.
President Donald Trump on Wednesday vetoed a $741 billion defense bill, setting up a fight with Congress that could lead to the first veto override of his presidency.
"My Administration recognizes the importance of the Act to our national security," Trump said in a statement on his veto. "Unfortunately, the Act fails to include critical national security measures, includes provisions that fail to respect our veterans and our military's history, and contradicts efforts by my Administration to put America first in our national security and foreign policy actions. It is a 'gift' to China and Russia."
This was the ninth veto of Trump's tenure, and none of the prior eight vetoes were overridden by Congress.
The National Defense Authorization Act has been passed in Congress and signed by presidents without much fanfare for six decades, but Trump has taken an unusual stance against the annual defense bill. The 2021 NDAA passed with a veto-proof majority in both chambers, enjoying overwhelming bipartisan support. The bill authorizes appropriations for the Defense Department and defense-related activities in other federal agencies.
The president has demanded the bill include language to repeal Section 230, an aspect of the Communications Decency Act that shields social-media companies from liability over content posted on their platforms. Trump's desire to see Section 230 repealed is linked to his assertion that social media giants are biased against conservatives, but the issue is completely unrelated to national defense.
Trump in his Wednesday statement said the bill fails to "make any meaningful changes to Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act." The president, who has spent years brushing off Russian election interference and has recently downplayed Russia's suspected role in the SolarWinds hack, went on to say that Section 230 "facilitates the spread of foreign disinformation online, which is a serious threat to our national security and election integrity."
The president also took issue with language in the bill permitting the renaming of military bases that commemorate Confederate leaders.
"The Act includes language that would require the renaming of certain military installations. Over the course of United States history, these locations have taken on significance to the American story and those who have helped write it that far transcends their namesakes," Trump said. "My Administration respects the legacy of the millions of American servicemen and women who have served with honor at these military bases, and who, from these locations, have fought, bled, and died for their country."
Republicans have been pleading with Trump against vetoing the NDAA
Top Republicans have urged Trump against vetoing the bill, including Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Jim Inhofe.
Inhofe recently referred to the NDAA as "the most important bill" of 2020 and said Section 230 has "nothing to do with the military."
"You've got to have a defense authorization bill. Our kids in the field demand it," Inhofe said.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has also touted the importance of the legislation.
"This [National Defense Authorization Act] will unlock more than $740 billion for the training, tools and cutting-edge equipment that our service members and civilian employees need to defend American lives and American interests,″ McConnell said during a Senate speech on December 10. "It will give our troops the 3% pay raise they deserve. It'll keep our forces ready to deter China and stand strong in the Indo-Pacific."
Despite strong GOP support for the legislation, Trump made good on his threat to veto it. As a result, Trump could face a significant embarrassment in Congress during the final days of his presidency, which have largely been spent fighting a losing legal battle against the election results and baselessly claiming he lost due to mass voter fraud.
Both chambers have already set dates to hold a vote to return after Christmas and override Trump's veto of the NDAA. The House will vote on December 28, and the Senate the day after.
"My intention was and is to ensure the Senate continues fulfilling our obligation to the men and women of our armed forces. I hope the president will not veto this bill," McConnell said on the Senate floor on Tuesday.
Trump has united Republicans and Democrats against his veto
Republicans responded swiftly to Trump's veto on Wednesday. Inhofe essentially urged his colleagues to override Trump's veto.
"The NDAA has become law every year for 59 years straight because it's absolutely vital to our national security and our troops. This year must not be an exception. Our men and women who volunteer to wear the uniform shouldn't be denied what they need — ever," Inhofe said via Twitter.
"I hope all of my colleagues in Congress will join me in making sure our troops have the resources and equipment they need to defend this nation," Inhofe added.
Congressional Democrats were also critical of the move.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in a statement on Wednesday decried Trump's veto as a "staggering recklessness that harms our troops, endangers our security and undermines the will of the bipartisan Congress."
[Senate Majority Leader McConnell said on Tuesday the Senate would return on December 29 if an override vote was necessary and that he had agreement from the Minority Leader Schumer on that matter. See you next week Senators! RAM]
"In a time when our country was just targeted with a massive cyberattack, it is particularly hard to understand the reasoning behind the President's irresponsibility," Pelosi added. "Disturbingly, Trump is using his final hours in office to sow chaos."
Pelosi said the House will "take up the veto override with bipartisan support" next week.
House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith in a statement said that by vetoing the 2021 NDAA the president has made it clear he "does not care about the needs of our military personnel and their families."
Parenthetical comment is that of Mr. McConnell and does not necessarily represent the views of the U.S.-Ukraine Foundation or the FOUN.