“Unfortunately, the Act fails to include critical national security measures, includes provisions that fail to respect our veterans and our military’s history, and contradicts efforts by my Administration to put America first in our national security and foreign policy actions,” the president argued. “It is a ‘gift’ to China and Russia.”
The veto paves the way for lawmakers to deliver a major rebuke of the president in the final weeks of his administration if Democrats and Republicans are able to join forces to enact the legislation over his objections. But it will also test the mettle of GOP lawmakers who have been wary of crossing the outgoing president.
Congress plans to return the week after Christmas to vote to override the veto. The House has scheduled a vote for next Monday, and if that succeeds, the Senate will come back into session on Tuesday to deal with the issue.
Two thirds of the House and Senate must vote in favor of the legislation in order to nullify the veto.
Congressional Democrats pulled few punches in response to Trump’s veto, accusing the president of playing politics with the military and promising to enact the bill over Trump’s objections.
“By vetoing this bipartisan legislation, President Trump ekes out one final betrayal of our nation’s military,” Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) said. “The President’s veto stands in the way of a pay raise for troops, veteran suicide prevention, and necessary investments in our national security.”
“By choosing to veto the NDAA, President Trump has made it clear that does not care about the needs of our military personnel and their families,” said House Armed Services Chair Adam Smith (D-Wash.). “I remain confident that Congress will override this harmful veto.”
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi accused Trump of “using his final hours in office to sow chaos” by nixing the bipartisan bill, citing a massive hack of federal agencies. The veto, she added, “violates our national values” by blocking the renaming of Army bases named for Confederates.
Senate Armed Services Chair Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), a close Trump ally, has also pledged to work to override a veto if Trump followed through on this threat.
In a statement Wednesday, Inhofe didn’t mention Trump’s veto, but nonetheless urged lawmakers to ensure the bill becomes law. The Oklahoma Republican added that lawmakers “should use another legislative vehicle to repeal Section 230.”
“The NDAA has become law every year for 59 years straight because it’s absolutely vital to our national security and our troops,” Inhofe said. “This year must not be an exception. Our men and women who volunteer to wear the uniform shouldn’t be denied what they need — ever.”
The threat of a presidential veto has loomed over the $741 billion policy bill for months. Trump injected his demand to repeal Section 230 late in negotiations on the bill.
It wasn’t Trump’s first veto threat. The president promised to tank the bill over the summer if it forced the military to rename bases that honor former Confederate leaders. The final bill includes a provision authored by Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) that would scrub base names and other military assets over a three-year period.
Trump reiterated his pledge to veto the NDAA last week by calling the legislation a win for Beijing, contradicting members of his own party who have touted the bill as tough on China.
“I will Veto the Defense Bill, which will make China very unhappy. They love it,” Trump tweeted last Thursday. “Must have Section 230 termination, protect our National Monuments and allow for removal of military from far away, and very unappreciative, lands. Thank you!”
The Trump administration has also opposed measures in the defense bill that limit his authority to remove troops from Afghanistan and Germany. Trump is pushing to lower U.S. troop levels to 2,500 in Afghanistan by Jan. 15. Separately, his administration is pressing to move 12,000 troops out of Germany after Trump criticized the NATO ally for not spending enough on defense. Both moves received bipartisan criticism.
The bill includes several other major provisions the White House opposes, including creating a Senate-confirmed national cyber director position. After news suraced that hackers had breached several federal agencies, supporters of the bill noted the new protections contained in the legislation.
The defense policy bill has become law for 59 consecutive years and is one of the bills that reliably passes each year. Now its fate hinges on lawmakers delivering Trump one of the few significant legislative rebukes of his presidency.
Republicans had hoped large enough votes would convince Trump to back off his threat and sign the bill, but entreaties from GOP lawmakers didn’t convince the president.
Congressional leaders ignored Trump’s demand. The House and Senate easily passed the bill this month with large enough majorities to overcome a veto. The House passed the final bill in a 335 to 78 blowout. The bill sailed through the Senate on a similarly wide 84 to 13 vote.
Lawmakers have until the new Congress is sworn in on Jan. 3 to override Trump’s veto and can easily do so if those margins hold.
The issue has divided Republicans, as some GOP lawmakers who supported the NDAA may side with Trump on a veto override vote.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy is the most prominent example. The Republican leader voted in favor of the NDAA, but said he won’t vote to override a veto. Republican Conference Chair Liz Cheney of Wyoming, meanwhile, said lawmakers should enact the bill over Trump’s objections.
Inhofe unsuccessfully attempted to steer Trump away from a veto and has vowed to work to override.
Another Republican Armed Services member, Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri, opposed the final bill after publicly backing Trump’s effort to repeal Section 230 and criticized the base renaming provision.
Trump’s veto is only the sixth for a defense bill in just over four decades. His immediate predecessors Barack Obama, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton each vetoed one defense bill in eight years in office.
Trump has vetoed a handful of bills during his term, including resolutions to terminate arms sales to the Middle East and to block military funding for his border wall with Mexico. None of the congressional override attempts came close to overturning them.