Trump Sets Up Long Fight Over Defense Bill With Veto Vow

President Donald Trump speaks during a Tuesday summit on the coronavirus vaccine operation known as Warp Speed. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

WASHINGTON (CN) — As his single term concludes, President Donald Trump kicked up more rancor by vowing to veto the bipartisan annual defense spending bill passed 335-78 by the House of Representatives on Tuesday evening.

A two-thirds majority in the House, or 290 of its 435-member roster, are needed to override a veto from the president. Even with enough votes to veto-proof the 2021 National Defense Authorization Act, however, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer expressed apprehension over Trump’s opposition.

Since Senate rules give the president 10 days to sign the bill before it must be remitted to Congress, Trump could ostensibly use this period to hang onto the legislation and employ what is known as a “pocket veto” as he runs down the clock.

This could force lawmakers back to Capitol Hill right around Christmas in an attempt to override him.

If the bill is not approved by January 3 when the new Congress is sworn in, it expires, and a new series of negotiations would have to begin.

President Trump contends that two factors justify his veto of the $740 billion package.

First, the package includes a provision he has publicly decried as an affront to the preservation of national history: The gradual renaming of Confederate installations over the next three years by the Pentagon. Specifically, the measure establishes a commission renaming items that commemorate Confederate darlings or volunteers who hoisted the Confederate States of America banner. Over three years, it will be left to the secretary of defense to spearhead the commission devoted to removing names, symbols, displays, monuments and other related paraphernalia. 

Second, the massive 4,500-plus page bill does not include a repeal of a law gnawing at President Trump: Section 230 of the Telecommunications Act.

Section 230 gives social media companies protection from lawsuits if a third-party user posts obscene or hate-based content on their platform.

As Twitter has regularly flagged Trump’s tweets featuring unsubstantiated claims of voter fraud in the November election, the president’s appetite to see the repeal inserted slapdash has only intensified.

An October study by the London-based Institute for Strategic Dialogue found conservative voices outnumbered liberal ones considerably in an analysis of 2 million posts across a range of platforms including Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, Instagram and 4Chan.

Likewise the nonprofit watchdog Media Matters for America found that right-leaning Facebook pages outpaced left-leaning ones over the last nine months. Notably, the study found 43% of all interactions earned by political pages on Facebook in America skew conservative while accounting for just 26% of all posts across the platform.

During debate on the House floor Tuesday, the Democratic chair of the House Armed Services Committee offered neither sympathy nor compromise to the president or those lawmakers who would oppose the NDAA on the Section 230 basis.

“That section is not going to be addressed in this bill,” said Representative Adam Smith of Connecticut Smith said before beseeching fellow. “This is the one thing, the one thing in this very tumultuous time that we ought to be able to agree on.”

Named this year in honor of retiring Republican Representative Mac Thornberry of Texas, the legislation is stacked with bipartisan policy. It features a measure extending bonus and special pay for servicemembers, including a 3% raise for uniformed members. It also features measures spurring the Defense Department to launch diversity initiatives for staff and extends benefits to veterans exposed to Agent Orange. In a new move, the benefits are being extended to servicemembers who later developed thyroid and bladder cancer. 

There is also funding for nuclear safety and arsenal maintenance as well as funding for weapons systems vital to national security.

Another measure in the bill, launched by Representative Jackie Speier, responds to the epidemic of sexual assault in the military, making it harder for members of the military to overturn convictions while also creating, for the first time, a process for overturned convictions to be reinstated on appeal.

Other attached provisions include new mandates for reporting sexual assault data to Congress and the formation of a confidential reporting mechanism for victims who wish to report a crime but fear reprisal if doing so through the chain of command.

The Illicit Cash Act, short for Improving Laundering Laws and Increasing Comprehensive Information Tracking of Criminal Activity in Shell Holdings Act, is also included. Jointly sponsored by Democratic Senators Mark Warner of Virginia and Doug Jones of Alabama, as well as Republican Senator Mike Rounds of South Dakota, the bill, requires shell companies, for the first time, to disclose their true owners to the Department of Treasury before they can do business with American banks.

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