However, the GOP leader said, he absolutely would not vote to override President Trump’s threatened veto out of his anger toward social media laws that have no place in a debate about the military.
Furthermore, McCarthy said his official position is to always support Trump’s veto.
“My point has always been, when I became a leader, I would not vote against the president’s veto. I will hold up the president’s veto,” McCarthy told reporters, adding: “We’ve always worked together to make bills better.”
So one final norm could come crashing into the new political world order of Trump mandates, halting a regular bipartisan accomplishment in its tracks so that the outgoing president can chase one other grievance that has little to do with the underlying policy imperative.
And it’s another destruction of what it means to be a conservative in the Trump era, as support for a strong national security has been a bedrock of party orthodoxy for decades and decades. Republicans have long considered this bill to be a religious act, protesting any time Democrats try to use this must-pass bill to include extraneous policy measures.
Now, in his last days in office, a Republican president has threatened passage of the legislation because he wants to change the laws regarding social media companies like Twitter.
Veteran Republicans are just baffled by how this has all transpired.
“It’s the most important bill of the year. We’re talking about the equipment we’re gonna have, we’re talking about the number of F-35s, we’re talking about, anyway, it’s all the things that our kids could get,” Sen. James M. Inhofe (R-Okla.), chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, told reporters before Tuesday’s House vote.
Inhofe, 86, won his first Senate race in 1994, after eight years in the House, coming of political age in the Reagan-Bush years. He rattled off a list of other things in the legislation, including hazard pay for troops on the battlefield, before repeating himself one last time.
“It’s the most important bill of the year,” he said.
Last year’s final Pentagon bill passed the Senate 86-8, with a similar sweeping vote, 377-48, in the House.
Inhofe has spent many hours on the phone with Trump trying to explain to him that the telecommunication laws he is concerned about, Section 230 of the relevant 1996 law, has no place in a Pentagon policy bill.
“He is wrapped up in the — on the 230 language, which is not anything that — it’s very simple that there’s no way we could have a defense authorization bill with that language in it,” Inhofe said.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), fully aware of how Trump feels that he was treated poorly by social media companies, simply ducked the issue at his weekly news conference, stating that the Pentagon bill would come to a vote later this week.
“It’s my intention to vote for it,” McConnell told reporters, making no mention of whether he would round up support to override the president’s veto.
But the House is now the biggest obstacle, because McCarthy is promising to throw his full support behind Trump.
To be sure, McCarthy joined 139 other House Republicans in voting for the Pentagon bill Tuesday, with just 40 of their GOP colleagues in opposition, providing a final tally of support — 335 — that is well above the two-thirds majority threshold required to override Trump’s veto.
And McCarthy is confident that he has plenty of Republicans who, just like he is doing, will be for the legislation until they are against it, unwilling to cross Trump on a veto override vote.
“I think they would stand with the president,” McCarthy told reporters Tuesday outside the House chamber.
This legislation is so bipartisan that House Democrats agreed to name this year’s bill after retiring Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-Texas), a close McCarthy friend who served as chairman of the House Armed Services Committee before Democrats won back the majority two years ago.
The measure’s importance has only grown as the rest of Congress turned into a legislative graveyard, meaning it was one of the few bills that other, smaller bills can hitch a ride on as a way to get signed into law.
“We have to move forward,” said Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.), who won reelection last month largely on Trump’s coattails. “A part of it is the vehicles are left in this Congress. In my opinion, it’s a must-pass bill.”
Indeed, Rep. Eliot L. Engel (D-N.Y.), chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, desperately wanted to pass a similar policy bill for the State Department, something that has not been approved in more than 15 years. Engel, who lost his primary last summer and is retiring, voted present Tuesday as a protest because he thought he had a deal to include the State Department’s authorization bill as a rider to the NDAA.
Before Tuesday’s vote, House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) held out hope that Republicans would convince Trump to sign the bill, citing Inhofe’s public statements of how critical the legislation is.
“You don’t want to put the defense bill at risk. And I think, hopefully, that view will prevail in the Republican Party,” Hoyer said.
Opposition to the bill traditionally comes from the far left flank of Democrats who oppose too much military spending and several dozen libertarian-leaning Republicans.
Now, Trump’s hostage-holding move will expand the number of Republicans opposing the $741 billion bill, possibly providing enough leverage to block it from overcoming his expected veto.
His social media fight has nothing to do with the military’s annual funding, troop pay or weapons procurement, but Trump knows that lawmakers really like to pass the NDAA — so he will just hold it hostage as leverage for action on Section 230 changes.
And as part of Trump’s gambit, McCarthy is happy to help block legislation that he otherwise supports.
“I’m hopeful that people will come to a wiser position, solve the problems that the president has and be able to have this bill signed,” he said Tuesday.