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Trump signs bill named for Sen. John McCain, but doesn’t mention him

President Trump signs the John S. McCain National Defense Authorization Act in a ceremony at Ft. Drum, N.Y.
(Hans Pennink / Associated Press)

President Trump on Monday signed a $716-billion defense policy bill named for John McCain but included no mention in his remarks of the Republican senator, who is battling brain cancer at home in Arizona.

Trump and McCain are engaged in a long-running feud that dates to Trump’s 2016 presidential run. At campaign rallies, Trump regularly castigates McCain — without using his name — for casting a dramatic thumbs-down vote that doomed Trump’s effort last year to repeal the Affordable Care Act, which was enacted by President Obama.

Trump said there was “no better place than right here at Ft. Drum” to celebrate passage of the defense bill, which will boost military pay by 2.6%, giving service members their largest increase in nine years.

The bill — formally the John S. McCain National Defense Authorization Act but referred to by Trump as simply the National Defense Authorization Act — will introduce thousands of new recruits to active duty, reserve and National Guard units and replace aging tanks, planes, ships and helicopters with more advanced and lethal technology, Trump said.

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“Hopefully, we’ll be so strong we’ll never have to use it. But if we ever did, nobody has a chance,” he said.

Later Monday, Trump referenced McCain — again without naming him — while talking about Obama’s health law at a fundraiser in Utica, N.Y., for Republican Rep. Claudia Tenney.

“I would’ve gotten rid of everything, but as you know, one of our wonderful senators had thumbs down at 2 o’clock in the morning,” Trump said, pantomiming the gesture.

The Republican audience — like those at Trump rallies, where his mockery of McCain’s vote is a staple — signaled by its boos and anti-McCain heckling that it knew what senator he was talking about.

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The bill authorizes billions of dollars for military construction, including family housing.

Besides setting policy and spending levels, the bill weakens a bid to clamp down on Chinese telecom company ZTE. It allows Trump to waive sanctions against countries that bought Russian weapons and now want to buy U.S. military equipment. The bill provides no money for Trump’s requested “space force,” but authorizes the military parade he wants in Washington in November.

The compromise bill removes a provision reinstating penalties against ZTE and restricting the company’s ability to buy U.S. component parts. ZTE was almost forced out of business after being accused of selling sensitive information to nations hostile to the U.S., namely Iran and North Korea, in violation of trade laws.

The annual measure sets policies and a budget outline for the Pentagon and will be followed by a later appropriations bill.

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Trump and McCain have had a strained relationship for years. During his election campaign, Trump declared that McCain, who was a prisoner of war for more than five years in Vietnam, was not a war hero, and he has publicly and privately blamed McCain for undercutting the Republican healthcare bill last year.

In a statement Monday, McCain expressed pride in the bill.

Los Angeles Times staff contributed to this report.


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