House leaders credit the increased support to changes that were made during a months-long negotiation between the Senate and the House, despite last-minute efforts from some of Trump’s allies to undermine the legislation.
The House’s vote sets up a challenge for the Senate, which has yet to vote on the measure. Should senators approve the bill by a similarly decisive margin, leaders are hopeful that the president will reconsider his veto threat.
GOP congressional leaders pleaded with their caucus members in recent days to ignore Trump’s demands and vote in favor of the defense bill, which has become law for 59 years running. The legislation not only includes money for major military programs and weapons systems, it also funds service members’ annual pay raises and other compensation intended to reward highly specialized or potentially hazardous work.
“The stronger the vote, the less chance of having to deal with a veto later,” Rep. Mac Thornberry (Tex.), the top Republican on the House Armed Services Committee, told reporters Monday, adding that GOP lawmakers should seriously weigh the “consequences of a no vote” before siding with Trump.
Many GOP leaders have promoted the legislation as a balanced product that authorizes a range of vital programs, including new initiatives to counter China and health coverage for National Guard members aiding pandemic response efforts.
But the president has only intensified his assault, and Tuesday morning he expanded the scope of his veto threat while exhorting GOP House members to vote against what he characterized on Twitter as “the very weak National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which I will VETO.”
“Must include a termination of Section 230 (for National Security purposes), preserve our National Monuments, & allow for 5G & troupe reductions in foreign lands!” he added, before resending his tweet with the correct spelling of “troop.”
At first, Trump’s veto threats focused only on provisions ordering the renaming of military installations commemorating figures from the Confederacy. In recent days, he also said he would reject the legislation because it does not include a repeal of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which offers technology companies such as Twitter, Facebook and Google liability protections over the content that third parties post on their platforms. Trump has accused those companies of anti-conservative bias.
In his tweet, the president also indicated that he plans to veto the bill over limitations it would place on reducing the number of U.S. troops stationed in Germany and South Korea, and on implementing a recent Federal Communications Commission order allowing broadband company Ligado Networks to develop a 5G network using bandwidths that could disrupt and compromise GPS systems and sensitive military technologies. His reference to protecting national monuments suggests that Trump also is willing to veto the defense bill for not incorporating certain public-lands provisions in its final draft.
Earlier this year, the Trump administration announced plans to redeploy about a third of the 34,500 U.S. troops currently stationed in Germany, drawing condemnation from Democrats and Republicans. The defense bill’s ban on reductions in forces is among several safeguards it incorporates that double as rebukes to Trump’s tenure as commander in chief.
The president’s barrage of complaints about the bill drove the conservative House Freedom Caucus to pledge Tuesday to vote against the legislation as a bloc, and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) to state in no uncertain terms that he would oppose any effort to override a Trump veto. In the end, nearly equal numbers of Republicans and Democrats — and only a handful more Republicans than the Freedom Caucus — voted against the legislation.
Trump may still be able to complicate efforts to finish the defense bill. Once it is sent to the White House, the president has 10 days, not including Sundays, to sign, veto or “pocket veto” the legislation; the last option is a de facto rejection of the bill via a refusal to sign it. Should Trump decide to run out the clock, he may force Congress to reconvene for an override vote after Christmas — an added impediment in any year but especially during a pandemic.
The defense bill must become law before noon Jan. 3, when the new session of Congress begins, or it will expire along with all other unfinished legislation from the past two years.