Defense policy bill approved with veto-proof majority despite Trump threats

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The House on Tuesday overwhelmingly approved the massive annual defense policy bill, rolling up a big bipartisan vote in the face of multiple veto threats from President Trump.

The massive, $740 billion National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which faces another test in the Republican-controlled Senate was approved by a 335-78 margin. The legislation needs at least 290 votes to override if Mr. Trump carries through on his threat. In a rare show of defiance, some 140 Republicans joined 195 Democrats in backing the traditionally popular bill, which sets military spending levels, greenlights a 3% pay raise for those in the ranks, and weighs in on a host of policy issues including Mr. Trump’s planned troop withdrawals and funding for the Mexican border wall.

The votes against the bill were virtually evenly split between liberal Democrats and conservatives Republicans, as 37 Democrats and 40 Republicans voted to reject the legislation.

Mr. Trump this summer issued a veto threat over a provision that remains in the bill that would rename nearly a dozen military bases that honor former leaders of the Confederacy within three years.

The president upped the ante with another veto threat this month via Twitter demanding the defense bill include language to repeal a longstanding legal shield for social media companies such as Facebook and Twitter regarding the content that runs on their sites.

But key Republicans have so far rejected the White House’s demand, saying the legal shield, known as “Section 230,” is not something that should be included in a defense policy bill. As one of the few must-pass measures as the current Congress winds down, the NDAA has become a tempting target for other pet projects.

“By passing [the compromise NDAA bill] with a sweeping, veto-proof majority, the House has proven we are capable of legislating and reaching compromise that results in good policy outcomes,” House Armed Services Committee Chairman Rep. Adam Smith, Washington Democrat, said in a statement following the bill’s passage.

He highlighted the provisions on the Confederate base names and the establishment of a new “chief diversity officer” within the Pentagon “to ensure our military reflects our country’s diversity.”

The massive defense bill includes a number of attractive features for lawmakers, including the troop pay raise, funding for new weapons systems, new policies to deter China and Russia, and increases in housing protections and standards for military families.

It rescinds Mr. Trump’s emergency declaration to obtain funding for the Mexican border wall, puts at least a temporary hold on plans to draw down more troops in Afghanistan, Germany and South Korea, and orders a Government Accounting Office study of U.S. backing for Saudi Arabia in Yemen’s civil war.

It is unclear how many of the Republicans who bucked Mr. Trump on Tuesday will be willing to defy him again in a veto override fight.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, California Republican, voted for the NDAA on Tuesday, but said he would support Mr. Trump in an override battle if the president vetoes the measure. But Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney, a member of the House leadership, told CNN earlier in the day she backed the bill and would vote to override a veto.

Mr. Trump has so far had a perfect record in sustaining his vetoes of eight bills during his four years in office, and Congress has not managed once to assemble the two-thirds majority in each chamber needed to override him.

“It is my hope that the President signs the FY21 NDAA into law given how important passage is for our service members and their families, however I remain confident that Congress will exercise our authority to override a potential veto should he choose to put his ego first,” Mr. Smith said.

The Senate is expected to vote on the final version of the bill later this week, and all eyes are watching to see if it will also receive a two-thirds majority to avoid a presidential veto.

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