The Slatest

Congress Is Poised to Override Trump’s Helter-Skelter Veto of the Yearly National Defense Bill

Trump salutes between two servicemen during the 2020 Army-Navy football game.
Trump playing commander in chief during the 2020 Army-Navy football game. Brendan Smialowski/Getty Images

The House voted Monday to override President Donald Trump’s veto of the National Defense Authorization Act, one of Trump’s final incoherent acts of chaos in the dying days of his presidency. The bill, a standard yearly reauthorization of military policy priorities and spending has managed bipartisan agreement and approval each year for the past 60 years, but was blocked by Trump this year despite overwhelming bipartisan support. Trump vetoed the authorization, ostensibly, because a number of his pet projects and pet peeves were omitted from the bill. The veto now requires two-thirds of both houses of Congress to vote to override the presidential veto and, on Monday, the House voted 322 to 87 to do just that.

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The House vote easily surpassed the two-thirds override threshold and now the Senate is scheduled to take up the measure. The original defense bill was passed with veto-proof majorities, which legislators had hoped would be enough to ward off a presidential veto. In the lead-up to and aftermath of Trump’s intervention, Republican senators have indicated that an override is likely. “I would hope we would be able to override the veto,” Oklahoma Republican Sen. Jim Inhofe, the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said over the weekend. “I think I have reason to be confident.” The override vote puts some of Trump’s most obedient enablers in Congress in a difficult position: ditch their original support for the bill and obey the president or vote to break from Trump and push the legislation through. Republican House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy voted against the override despite voting for the original bill.

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Trump’s problems with the bill are mostly based in personal grievance: He demanded that Congress remove a provision that requires the Pentagon to rename military installations commemorating Confederate generals, and he railed against the act’s granting of congressional oversight to his spasmodic demands of U.S. troop withdrawals. Those differences are pretty trivial considering the scope and importance of the $741 billion defense authorization bill, which, among other things, sets funding levels for the operation of the American military. Trump’s other, and perhaps biggest, issue with the bill is that it didn’t include language on a totally unrelated issue—his crusade against social media companies. Trump wanted the national defense bill to repeal Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which shields social media companies from liability for what users post on their sites, a growing gripe of Trump’s despite, well, the obvious point that he would likely be the biggest transgressor if the rules were changed.

If the override garners enough Republican support in the Senate, it will be the first congressional override of the Trump presidency. Trump has issued nine vetoes despite his own party controlling the Senate throughout his single term in office, a higher rate than his two predecessors, Barack Obama and George W. Bush, who each issued 12 vetoes each over two terms in office.

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