Trump Vetoes Defense Bill, Setting Up Congressional Vote To Potentially Override Him

Dec 23, 2020
Originally published on December 24, 2020 7:49 am

Updated at 5:03 p.m. ET

President Trump has followed through on his threats to veto the annual defense bill, triggering plans for Congress to return from its holiday break to potentially override him for the first time in his four-year administration.

"My Administration has taken strong actions to help keep our Nation safe and support our service members," Trump wrote in a message to the House of Representatives. "I will not approve this bill, which would put the interests of the Washington, D.C. establishment over those of the American people."

This month, the National Defense Authorization Act won annual congressional approval for its 60th straight year. And the legislation drew overwhelming bipartisan majorities in both chambers, signaling that Congress likely has the support to override Trump's veto.

Because of Trump's repeated veto threats, Congress has already scheduled voting sessions to override the move during rare floor votes next week. The House is now slated to meet on Monday to override the defense bill veto, while the Senate is scheduled to follow suit on Tuesday.

"I would hope we would be able to override the veto," Oklahoma Republican Sen. Jim Inhofe, the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, told a Capitol Hill reporter on Saturday. He later added, "I think I have reason to be confident" that a veto override would be successful.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called Trump's move "an act of staggering recklessness that harms our troops, endangers our security and undermines the will of the bipartisan Congress."

This month, the Senate approved the measure 84-13, while the House passed the bill by a vote of 335-78. This signals that both chambers have more than the two-thirds majority of their members needed to overcome Trump's rejection of the bill.

Supporters had also hoped that backing the plan by a supermajority would send a message to Trump to not veto.

However, starting in June, Trump began to signal he would reject the legislation. That month, he took aim at Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., who spearheaded a provision in the bill to rename military installations that honor figures from the Confederacy.

Then, this month, Trump doubled down on his threats to veto the bill if it didn't include a last-minute provision to end legal protections for social media companies. But a bipartisan group of lawmakers, including key Republican leaders, proceeded with the legislation even though it didn't have the repeal Trump demanded.

"I hope House Republicans will vote against the very weak National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which I will VETO," Trump tweeted ahead of the Dec. 8 House vote.

Trump had wanted lawmakers to undo Section 230 of the 1996 Communications Decency Act over his feud with Twitter and other social media companies. Section 230 provides legal protection for technology companies over content from third parties and users.

Then, after Trump continued to reiterate those demands, he upped the ante on Dec. 13, saying he'd also veto the bill because it didn't sufficiently address China.


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OK, so Congress thought it had tied up most of its work before leaving for the holidays, but President Trump apparently had different ideas. Yesterday, he vetoed the annual defense bill. And the day before that, he harshly criticized the massive COVID relief bill that was passed after a lot of work. That caught many off guard, including Republican Congressman Tom Reed, who spoke to NPR yesterday.


TOM REED: Obviously, it caught all of us by surprise, so many of us were blindsided by this action by the president.

GREENE: And now each party seems to have a different plan to respond. And let's bring in NPR congressional reporter Claudia Grisales. Hi, Claudia.

CLAUDIA GRISALES, BYLINE: Good morning, David.

GREENE: Let's start with that bill that was vetoed, the Defense Authorization Act. It's known as the NDAA. Remind us what was in there and why the president vetoed it.

GRISALES: Yes, this is the policy bill for the Pentagon, so it includes pay raises, boosts in troop levels and equipment. And the veto isn't a surprise. Trump threatened to veto this bill several times in the last several months. He first took issue with the bill's plans to rename military bases that honor figures from the Confederacy. And then he wanted a last-minute provision repealing a liability shield for social media companies. And then, finally, he said that it didn't sufficiently address China.

GREENE: So what happens now?

GRISALES: So because this wasn't a surprise, Congress already made plans to meet to override this veto next week, and it appears that they have the majorities needed to do so. And that's because when they passed the final version of this legislation earlier this month, they drew these kind of overwhelming votes already.

So the House is expected to meet first. To override this veto, they'll need two-thirds of their members to agree. And if that clears the lower chamber, it will move to the Senate for similar approval by Tuesday.

GREENE: OK, well, Claudia, I mean, it sounds like lawmakers had a plan for that defense bill. They did not have a plan for this change, the president jumping in and throwing a wrench in the COVID relief negotiations. I mean, this - it sounds like that came out of nowhere.

GRISALES: Exactly, as we heard from Reed at the top. And there's little appetite to address these demands. Republicans instead say they want to have the House floor greenlight a plan to revisit the foreign aid section of the spending package. This was one of Trump's major targets this week in his video statement, but this is a no-go for Democrats.

One House Republican, Nebraska's Don Bacon, told his colleagues on a call yesterday that Trump basically threw them under the bus. And he noted in a statement afterwards confirming this that his party was told by the White House to support this bill on Monday, the same day of the vote. So the frustration with Trump is palpable.

GREENE: And then you have this weird situation with Democrats sort of cheering on Trump calling for larger direct payments to Americans, basically saying, I'm so happy you came around to our idea.

GRISALES: Exactly. They held a pro forma session on the House floor. These are quick check-ins on the floor. And they were trying to get quick approval for this plan, but they were blocked by Republicans. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in a statement afterwards that the GOP, quote, "cruelly" blocked these payments and Trump should call on them to stop their obstruction. Now she says she's going to try again on Monday to call for a roll call vote. This is to make certain that every lawmaker and their vote is recorded on this.

And she hopes by Monday the president will sign this spending package because if not, Congress will need to pass a new government funding measure to avoid a government shutdown by Monday night.

GREENE: Wow, we could be back there.


GREENE: NPR congressional reporter Claudia Grisales. Thank you so much, Claudia.

GRISALES: Thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.