Trump vetoes defense bill, setting up showdown with Congress
President Donald Trump vetoed key defense policy laws on Wednesday and repeatedly made threats to reject the law if it does not remove legal protections for social media companies.
The White House issued a statement announcing Trump's long-awaited veto of the National Defense Authorization Act. The government cited, among other things, the legislature's refusal to lift online liability protection and force the renaming of military bases named after Confederate leaders.
"I am not going to approve this bill that would put the interests of the DC establishment in Washington above those of the American people," Trump said.
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The veto paves the way for lawmakers to issue a major reprimand from the president in the final weeks of his administration when Democrats and Republicans can join forces to legislate on his objections. But it will also test the ability of GOP lawmakers who were careful to cross the outgoing president.
Congress plans to return a week after Christmas to rule on the veto. The House has scheduled a vote next Monday, and if it does, the Senate will return to another session on Tuesday to consider the issue.
Two-thirds of the House and Senate must vote for the legislation to lift the veto.
The threat of a presidential veto has been threatening for months over the US $ 741 billion bill, H.R. 6395 (116). Trump brought his call for the lifting of social media protections known as Section 230 to be late in negotiations on the bill.
It wasn't Trump's first veto threat. The president promised to refuel the bill in the summer if the military were forced to rename bases honoring former Confederate leaders. The final bill includes a provision written by Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) That cleans up the base names and other military assets over a three year period.
Trump reiterated his promise to veto the NDAA last week by calling the legislation a victory for Beijing, contradicting members of his own party who touted the bill as tough on China.
"I'm going to veto the defense law, which will make China very unhappy. They love it," Trump tweeted last Thursday. "Must have Section 230 terminated, protect our national monuments, and allow the removal of military from distant and very disrespectful countries. Thank you!"
The Trump administration has also spoken out against measures in the defense law that restrict its authority to withdraw troops from Afghanistan and Germany. Trump is pushing for the US troop strength in Afghanistan to be reduced to 2,500 by January 15. Regardless, his administration is pushing for 12,000 soldiers to be withdrawn from Germany after Trump criticized the NATO ally for not spending enough on defense. Both steps were criticized by both parties.
The bill contains several other key provisions that the White House opposes, including the creation of a Senate-approved position as national cyber director.
The Defense Policy Act has been enshrined in law for 59 years in a row and is one of the laws that is reliably passed every year. Now, his fate depends on lawmakers delivering one of the few major legislative reprimands of his presidency to Trump.
Republicans had hoped that large enough votes would convince Trump to withdraw his threat and sign the bill, but requests from GOP lawmakers did not convince the president.
The leaders of Congress ignored Trump's request. The House and Senate passed the bill easily this month with a majority large enough to break a veto. The House passed the final bill in a blowout of 335-78. The bill passed the Senate with a similarly broad 84-13 votes.
Legislators have until the inauguration of the new Congress on Jan. 3 to overturn Trump's veto and can do so easily if those margins apply.
The issue has divided Republicans as some GOP lawmakers who backed the NDAA may be on the side of a veto-override vote with Trump.
Kevin McCarthy, the minority chairman of the House of Representatives, is the best-known example. The Republican leader voted for the NDAA but said he would not vote to override a veto. Meanwhile, Republican Conference Chairwoman Liz Cheney of Wyoming said lawmakers should pass the bill on Trump's objections.
Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), Chairman of the Senate Armed Forces, tried unsuccessfully to prevent Trump from exercising a veto. Inhofe, one of Trump's closest allies on Capitol Hill, has vowed to work to override a veto.
Another member of the Republican Armed Forces, Senator Josh Hawley of Missouri, opposed the final bill after publicly supporting Trump's efforts to repeal Section 230 and criticizing the base renaming provision.
Trump's veto is only the sixth for a defense bill in just over four decades. His immediate predecessors Barack Obama, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton each vetoed a defense law for eight years in office.
Trump vetoed a handful of bills during his tenure, including resolutions to end arms sales in the Middle East and freeze military funding for his border wall with Mexico. None of the attempts at overwriting Congress would have come close to overturning it.
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