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House approves defense bill with veto-proof margin, despite Trump’s opposition

An American military convoy stops near the town of Tel Tamr, Syria.
An American military convoy stops near the town of Tel Tamr, Syria, in October 2019.
(Baderkhan Ahmad / Associated Press)

The House on Tuesday easily approved a wide-ranging defense policy bill by a veto-proof margin, defying President Trump and setting up a possible showdown with him in the waning days of his administration.

The 335-78 vote in favor of the $731-billion measure came hours after Trump renewed his threat to veto it unless lawmakers clamped down on social media companies that he claims were biased against him during the election.

Trump tweeted Tuesday that he would veto “the very weak National Defense Authorization Act,” or NDAA, unless it included a provision to repeal Section 230 of the communications code, which shields Twitter, Facebook and other tech giants from content liability. Trump also wants Congress to strip out a provision of the bill that allows renaming of military bases that now honor Confederate leaders.

Congressional leaders vowed to move ahead on the hugely popular bill — which affirms automatic 3% pay raises for U.S. troops and authorizes other military programs — despite the veto threat.

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The final vote represented approval from more than 80% of the House, well above the two-thirds support required to override a potential veto. A total of 140 Republicans joined 195 Democrats to back the bill, which now goes to the Senate.

Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney, a member of the House Republican leadership, urged Trump not to follow through on his veto threat, but added that, if he does veto it, “we should override.”

The Army says it has fired or suspended 14 officers and enlisted soldiers at Ft. Hood, Texas, and ordered policy changes to address leadership failures.

If Trump vetoes the bill, “we will come back to vote to override,” said Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.), the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee.

With Trump pressuring Republicans to stand by him, it was unclear until the final tally whether the bill would receive the two-thirds support needed to override a veto. The House Freedom Caucus, a bloc of about three dozen conservatives, backed Trump’s position Tuesday and opposed the bill.

“We stand with the president,” said Rep. Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.), the group’s chairman.

“This particular NDAA bill is filled with flaws and problems,” including limitations on troop withdrawals ordered by Trump in Afghanistan and Germany, Biggs said.

U.S. troops are rushing to exit Afghanistan as the insurgency it never managed to defeat regains ground across much of the country.

Smith and other lawmakers noted that many defense programs can only go into effect if the bill is approved, including military construction. The measure guides Pentagon policy and cements decisions on troop levels, new weapons systems and military readiness, military personnel policy and other military goals.

Troops should not be “punished” because politicians failed to enact legislation to ensure their pay, said Rep. Mac Thornberry of Texas, the top Republican on the Armed Services panel. The $731-billion measure increases hazardous-duty pay for overseas deployments and other dangerous job assignments, hikes recruiting and retention bonuses and adjusts housing allowances.

The dispute over social media content — a battle cry of conservatives who say social media giants treat them unfairly — injects an unrelated but complicated issue into a bill that Congress takes pride in having passed without fail for nearly 60 years. It follows Trump’s bid to torpedo the package with an earlier veto threat over Confederate base names.

Measures approved by the House and Senate would require the Pentagon to rename bases such as Ft. Benning and Ft. Hood, which are named for Confederate generals. Trump opposes the idea. The fight erupted over the summer amid widespread protests over police killings of Black men and women, and Trump used the debate to try to appeal to white Southern voters nostalgic about the Confederacy.

President Trump is threatening social media companies with new regulation or even closure after Twitter added fact checks to two of his tweets.

Smith and Thornberry said in a joint statement last week that lawmakers had “toiled through almost 2,200 provisions to reach compromise on important issues affecting our national security and our military.”

For 59 straight years, they added, the NDAA has passed because lawmakers and presidents agreed to set aside their own preferences “and put the needs of our military personnel and America’s security first. The time has come to do that again.”

The powerful Republican chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Sen. James Inhofe of Oklahoma, said he had spoken to Trump and explained that the defense bill was not the place for the fight against big tech companies.

“I agree with his sentiments — we ought to do away with [Section] 230,” Inhofe told reporters. “But you can’t do it in this bill.”

Take the names of traitor generals off Army posts and replace them with these 10 honorable soldiers.

If Trump does veto the defense bill, Congress could cut short its Christmas recess to hold override votes, senior House members said.

“I think we can override the veto, if in fact he vetoes,” House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said Tuesday before the vote. “I hope he does not veto; I hope he reconsiders. And I think he will get substantial pressure, advice [from Republicans] that, you know, you don’t want to put the defense bill at risk.’'

White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany said Trump’s attempt to pressure Congress on Section 230 was justified.

“Twitter has become a publisher, choosing to fact-check content,” she said. “And when you’re a publisher, there are certain responsibilities with that, and you should not be immune from liability.”

The defense bill is typically a widely bipartisan measure, one of the few areas of common ground. Over the summer, the Senate approved its version, 86-14, while the House similarly passed its effort.


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