WASHINGTON (CN) — Shutting down outgoing President Donald Trump’s veto of the $740 billion annual defense spending bill, the House of Representatives voted 322-87 Monday to override — leaving it to the Senate to make it law without his signature.
Monday’s override marks the first of Trump’s presidency and comes as his only term as commander-in-chief ends in 23 days.
The package boasts popular measures like pay raises for service members while extending benefits such as paid parental leave and infusing billions into cybersecurity programs, military construction projects, critical maintenance of defense systems, counterterrorism programs and more.
But Trump’s veto of the defense bill, which has passed unwaveringly for almost six decades until now, was based on a litany of personal objections which — while contentious — are mostly unrelated to the core of the NDAA’s function: To preserve the nation’s defense.
Trump first objected to the bill’s inclusion of a measure to create a commission for the evaluation and eventual renaming of U.S. military installations presently memorializing Confederate darlings. The renaming is an affront to the nation’s history, he has argued.
Then he called for the repeal of a wholly unrelated telecommunications law that shields media companies from legal liability when third party users post objectionable content on their platforms. The law is known as Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, and while Trump claims Congress’ failure to end it represents “very dangerous national security risk” and thwarts U.S. intelligence gathering, the provision has nothing to do with either.
Trump also stymied the defense funding package claiming it is “a gift” to China and Russia. But in its 4,000-plus pages, the legislation outlines $2.2 billion in new measures aimed at hardening the U.S. posture toward both including the formation of a Pacific Deterrence Initiative and mandated assessments on Chinese cyberespionage and money laundering in the region.
The bill also grants $250 million to Ukraine for its national security, a measure meant to show U.S. support for Ukraine against Russia’s efforts to expand its encroachment there. The 2021 NDAA also authorizes mandatory sanctions against Turkey for its acquisition of a Russian air defense system. The Treasury secretary is also approved to take “any special measures” necessary to deter Russian money laundering.
Republican Representative Mac Thornberry of Texas — the bill’s namesake since he is not running for reelection next term — emphasized Monday that Trump’s veto ignored many of the package’s actual provisions.
“It’s the exact same bill the House supported 20 days ago. Not a comma has changed. It still prevents the military from having their pay cut. It still creates new tools to deal with a newly aggressive China,” he said. “One thing I guess is new in the past few days was a devastating cyberattack by Russia that has been exposed. But fortunately, this bill has dozens of positions to strengthen the country’s defense on cyber.”
Trump exercised his “constitutional prerogative” by vetoing the bill. But a successful override would send an important signal to the world, Thornberry said — that there is unified support, despite all other political differences, to sustain the strength of the U.S. military.
Connecticut Democrat Representative Adam Smith, who chairs the House Armed Services Committee and joined Thornberry in sponsoring the bill, said the House’s vote to override Trump’s veto is more than symbolic.
“It’s enormously important to give our troops the support they need to carry out the job that we are all asking them to do. That is one of our minimum obligations as members of Congress,” he said.
Representative Al Green, who flew to Washington from Texas to vote on the override Monday night, underlined that had Trump’s veto stood the consequences would have been multiplied for service members who already jeopardize their lives and safety on a regular basis. The veto, for example, would have forgone suicide prevention resources.
Further, Green noted it would have upheld the “memorialization on military bases of the legacies of men who fought to defend our nation’s original sin: Slavery.”
“This is the least a grateful nation can do for those who are willing to make the ultimate sacrifice because, in truth, either we will protect our protectors or we won’t have protectors to protect us,” Green said.
The override effort goes next to the Senate and requires a two-thirds majority there to make the bill law without Trump’s signature. A single senator could ultimately delay the vote by employing a series of procedural hurdles and it is expected that Republican Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky will object to the override since he was opposed to the NDAA’s passage initially.
Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, an Independent who caucuses with the Democrats, may also disrupt the override in the Senate. He announced via tweet Monday evening that he would object to voting on the NDAA until the Senate approves a bill passed by the House on Monday that would boost coronavirus stimulus checks from $600 to $2,000 per person.
The House approved the measure 275-134, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has indicated he would be willing to pass the bill.