The House on Monday rejected a bid by President Donald Trump to derail major defense policy legislation, rendering a bipartisan rebuke to the president in the final weeks of his administration.
Lawmakers voted 322 to 87 to override Trump’s veto of the National Defense Authorization Act. If the Senate follows suit, lawmakers will deliver Trump the first and only veto override of his presidency.
The Senate is set to return to the Capitol on Tuesday to take up the issue, though a final vote may not occur until later this week. Two thirds of both chambers must sign off to enact the bill over Trump’s objections, and lawmakers have until the new Congress is sworn in on Jan. 3 to finish the task.
Trump rejected the bill, H.R. 6395 (116), last week after lawmakers refused to budge on his last-minute demand to include a repeal of legal protections for social media companies. He also objected to provisions in the bill that would remove the names of Confederate leaders from military bases and place restrictions on U.S. troop withdrawals from Afghanistan and Europe.
But lawmakers in both parties closed ranks to salvage the popular legislation, which has become law each year for nearly six decades. This year’s bill passed the House earlier this month 335-78 and a sailed through the Senate by a vote of 84-13.
Monday’s override vote was a rare rebuke of Trump by Republican lawmakers, who have been hesitant to cross the president even as he fights a losing legal and political battle to overturn the results of the presidential election.
Republicans could have sunk the legislation if they sided with Trump and switched their votes en masse. But a slew of GOP lawmakers did switch votes — 109 House Republicans voted to overturn Trump’s veto compared to the 140 who supported the compromise bill earlier this month.
Democrats, meanwhile, boosted their support for the bill, with 212 voting to override compared to 195 who supported the bill nearly three weeks ago.
Ahead of the vote, lawmakers from both parties warned that torpedoing the bill would have harsh consequences for the military, with many key pay and benefit provisions expiring on Dec. 31.
Leaders of the House Armed Services Committee underscored that Trump’s chief objection is unrelated to national security and falls outside the panel’s jurisdiction.
“The president vetoed this because of something that isn’t in the bill and was never going to be in the bill, something totally unrelated to national security,” Armed Services Chair Adam Smith (D-Wash.) said. “There is literally no reason for to veto this bill for the reasons that the president did, and certainly no reason for us not to uphold what we did in passing this bill.”
The top Armed Services Republican, Mac Thornberry, pushed lawmakers to hold the line and noted that more than 80 percent of the House supported the same defense bill earlier this month.
“It’s the exact same bill,” Thornberry said. “Not a comma has changed.”
“Our troops, the country, indeed the world is watching to see what we will do, whether we can tune out other difference and still come together to support the men and women of the military and American national security,” he added.
Rep. Mac Thornberry speaks during a news conference Oct. 29, 2019 at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, DC. | Alex Wong/Getty Images
No lawmakers spoke in favor of upholding the veto ahead of the vote.
The bill is named in honor of Thornberry, who is retiring from Congress after 13 terms in the House. Following Trump’s veto last week, the Texas Republican circulated a note urging GOP lawmakers to base their votes on the myriad provisions in the bill rather than “distortions or misrepresentations” about the legislation.
A presidential veto has loomed over the must-pass bill for months.
Trump first threatened to veto the defense bill over the summer after the Senate Armed Services Committee adopted an amendment from progressive Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) to force the renaming bases that honor Confederates over a three-year period. The House followed suit with a provision to rename bases within a year, and a compromise bill included Warren’s provision.
Trump also threatened to nix the bill late in negotiations between the House and Senate this month unless lawmakers repealed the online liability protections, known as Section 230. The issue is unrelated to national security, and many Republicans have called for a separate debate and vote on legislation to overhaul the law.
Trump said he’d received a pledge for a vote on a repeal of Section 230 after signing a separate full-year government funding package and coronavirus stimulus on Sunday.
“Congress has promised that Section 230, which so unfairly benefits Big Tech at the expense of the American people, will be reviewed and either be terminated or substantially reformed,” Trump said in a statement.
Lawmakers in both parties contend Section 230 should be overhauled, but Democrats have rejected Trump’s calls for a full repeal of the statute.