Senate Republicans continued a rare streak of breaking with Donald Trump when most joined with Democrats to override his veto of a yearly Pentagon policy bill considered sacred to most conservative members.
The upper chamber joined the House in sending the outgoing commander-in-chief a clear message with an overwhelmingly bipartisan vote on New Year’s Day to reject the massive package and make it law. It was a stinging rebuke to Mr Trump, who had pleaded with Republicans in both chambers to join his calls for the $740b legislation to be amended and sent back to his desk. It marked the first time Congress has successfully overturned a Trump veto, days before his term expires.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell pushed the override vote, again bucking the GOP president as he recently took to the chamber floor to urge all senators to vote for the National Defense Authorization Act, even as he called it “far from perfect.” The majority leader kept up his advocacy for a veto override on Tuesday morning.
“Yesterday, a bipartisan supermajority in the House voted to reapprove the conference report of this must-pass legislation,” the Kentucky Republican said on the Senate floor on Tuesday. “President Trump has rightly noted this year’s defense bill doesn’t contain every provision that we Republicans would have wanted. I’m confident our Democratic colleagues feel the same way. But that is the case every year.”
He then provided the president what amounted to a history lesson.
“And yet, for 59 consecutive years and counting, Washington has put our differences aside, found common ground, and passed the annual defense bill,” Mr McConnell said. “Not once in six decades has a Congress let its differences prevent it from completing this work for our national security and our men and women who wear the uniform.”
The GOP Senate leader and others have pointed to a paradox hanging over Mr Trump’s threat: the bill codifies and expands on his plans to buy new combat equipment. He campaigned for a second term, in part, on having “rebuilt our military.” The override by both chambers unlocks a 3 per cent pay raise for military troops.
The votes came after some more holiday season drama, with Senator Rand Paul just before the Christmas holiday holding up passage of the bipartisan measure over language that places strings on a president’s ability to bring home deployed troops.
The Senate’s vote ended some end-of-year drama surrounding what is considered by members of both parties a “must-pass” item.
But the president vetoed the bill because it does not contain language repealing or dramatically altering unrelated legal liability protections for social media firms he claims – without proof – are censoring conservatives. He also objected to a provision that sets up a process to rename US military facilities named for Confederate leaders.
Congressional leaders and the heads of the House and Senate Armed Services committees, after six months of work to hammer out a compromise version, opted to move to final votes earlier this month on the measure without adding Mr Trump’s demanded language on the protections in Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act.
Mr Trump is contending social media giants like Twitter, Facebook and others suppressed right-leaning content in an attempt to help Joe Biden defeat him in last month’s presidential election.
The outgoing president earlier this month issued a clear veto threat of the NDAA.
He said: “I hope House Republicans will vote against the very weak National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which I will VETO. Must include a termination of Section 230 (for National Security purposes), preserve our National Monuments, & allow for 5G & troop reductions in foreign lands!”
The White House Office of Management and Budget issued a formal and detailed veto threat, saying in a memo to Congress it concluded the measure “fails to include critical national security measures, includes provisions that fail to respect our veterans and our military’s history, and contradicts efforts by this administration to put America first in our national security and foreign policy actions.”
OMB also pointed to Mr Trump’s stances on Section 230 and renaming US military bases named for Confederate leaders. Both became deal-breakers for him in recent weeks. “Numerous provisions,” the budget office told lawmakers, “directly contradict” Mr Trump’s national security and foreign policy stances, and his advisers would recommend a veto if it lands on his desk in its House-passed form.
House Armed Services Chairman Mac Thornerry, a retiring Texas Republican, sent the president a message before his chamber approved the compromise bill, saying it should not be put on a chopping block due to “an excuse about what’s not in it.”
While he did not directly refer to Mr Trump by name, the Republican said: “Our troops should not be punished because [the bill] does not fix everything that needs to be fixed.”
Nebraska GOP Congressman Don Bacon spoke a few minutes later, saying he is “in agreement with the president’s concerns on Section 230 – however … it falls outside the jurisdiction of this vote … and deserves its own bill.”
“Do you think you’ll get a better bill in two months?” he asked “The answer is no.”