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Senate overrides Trump’s veto of $740.5 billion defense bill

The U.S. Capitol building as seen in Washington on Sept. 15, 2020. The Senate on Friday, Jan. 1, 2021, overrode Trump’s veto of the 2021 National Defense Authorization Act by a vote of 81-13.

CARLOS BONGIOANNI/STARS AND STRIPES

By STEVE BEYNON | STARS AND STRIPES Published: January 1, 2021

WASHINGTON — The Senate on Friday rejected President Donald Trump’s attempted derailment of the $740.5 billion defense bill that boosts pay and benefits for troops and adds care for thousands of Vietnam-era veterans who were exposed to Agent Orange.

In a 81-13 vote, the Senate overrode Trump’s veto of the 2021 National Defense Authorization Act, joining the House in delivering a bipartisan rebuke of the president in his final days in office. It is the first and likely only veto of the Trump presidency. The NDAA sets annual spending and policy priorities for the Pentagon and originally passed both chambers of Congress earlier this month with veto-proof majorities.

The House on Monday voted 322-87 to override Trump’s veto of the legislation.

The 2021 fiscal year began Oct. 1 and the government has been operating under a continuing resolution that keep agencies funded at the previous year’s amounts. The congressional override doesn’t need any further input from the White House and the 2021 NDAA is now law.

Trump vetoed the defense bill last week after lawmakers refused to include his demand to terminate Section 230, a law that shields social media companies from liability over the content of third parties. Some lawmakers on both sides of the aisle support repealing or reforming the legal shield, but through a separate bill. They argued that stripping protections for online companies doesn’t fall into the military’s jurisdiction.

Trump also rejected the bill over provisions that would scrub the names of Confederate leaders from military bases and curbing his ability to quickly reduce troop numbers in Afghanistan and Germany.

Last week, Sen. Jack Reed of Rhode Island, the ranking Democrat of the Senate Armed Services Committee, expressed irritation over Trump seemingly random and last-minute objections to the NDAA, which takes months for lawmakers to negotiate.

“It’s hard to keep track of President Trump’s unprincipled, irrational excuses for vetoing this bipartisan bill,” Reed said in a statement. “Donald Trump is showing more devotion to Confederate base names than to the men and women who defend our nation.”

There are enough Republicans on Capitol Hill to side with Trump and stop the bill, but lawmakers from both parties closed ranks to guard the NDAA, which has been approved for 60 consecutive years. The top Republican on the House Armed Services Committee, Mac Thornberry of Texas, urged the GOP to dig in and not cave to pressure from the White House to switch their support of the defense bill.

“It’s the exact same bill, not a comma has changed,” Thornberry said Monday.

Yet, 26 Republican House members who originally supported the NDAA sided with Trump’s veto.

“I felt responsible to ensure our national defense and military were properly funded, which is why I voted for the NDAA earlier this month,” Rep. Barry Loudermilk, R-Ga., said in a statement. “However, no one has a better pulse on the security of this nation and our military than the president of the United States, and I believe his objections to the bill are reasonable and intended to protect all Americans.”

Ahead of the video to override the veto, Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, warned that not passing the NDAA would immediately hinder pay and benefits, mostly due to a provision boosting hazardous duty pay.

“More than 200,000 military families will see smaller paychecks in January,” Inhofe said on the Senate floor.

He added that going after social media companies through the NDAA was a lost cause from the start.

“It’s a complicated thing, the majority of Americans don’t know what that is about. Section 230 has nothing to do with the military, nothing at all,” Inhofe said.

beynon.steven@stripes.com
Twitter.: @StevenBeynon