- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 13, 2020

The Senate on Friday overwhelmingly approved the National Defense Authorization Act following weeks of veto threats from President Trump over language to rename military bases that honor former Confederate leaders and lack of a provision to end legal protections for social media companies.

The $740.5 billion legislation was approved 84-13 and needed a two-thirds majority to override a presidential veto, serving a major blow to Mr. Trump in his final weeks in office.

Despite the wave of congressional support for the bill, Mr. Trump again threatened to reject the legislation on Sunday, tweeting “THE BIGGEST WINNER OF OUR NEW DEFENSE BILL IS CHINA!. I WILL VETO!”

His message quickly received pushback from the top Democrat of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Sen. Jack Reed of Rhode Island, who said in a statement: “President Trump clearly hasn’t read the bill, nor does he understand what’s in it. There are several bipartisan provisions in here that get tougher on China than the Trump Administration has ever been.”

“This latest veto threat is further proof that he cares more about himself than our troops and the safety of the American people,” Mr. Reed said. “Now Congress must come together on a bipartisan basis and override this senseless veto and provide for the common defense.”

Five Democrats and one independent voted against the bill — Sens. Cory A, Booker of New Jersey, Ed Markey of Massachusetts, Jeff Merkley of Oregon, Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, Ron Wyden of Oregon and Bernard Sanders of Vermont.

Thirteen Republicans voted against the bill that sets military spending levels, including Sens. Mike Braun of Indiana, Tom Cotton of Arkansas, Ted Cruz of Texas, Josh Hawley of Missouri, John Kennedy of Louisiana, Mike Lee of Utah and Rand Paul of Kentucky.

The defense policy bill is historically passed with bipartisan support and is highly anticipated to be approved with a significant majority if Mr. Trump does issue a veto.

“There isn’t much that happens around Capitol Hill with the kind of track record that the National Defense Authorization Act has, but there’s a reason this bill gets done every single year for the last 59 years: It’s the most important bill we’ll do all year,” Sen. James Inhofe, Oklahoma Republican and chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said following the bill’s passage.

“It’s what the Constitution tells us we have to do. We must protect freedom, democracy and peace, and support our troops,” he said.

The final version of the defense spending bill includes a provision, sponsored by Ms. Warren, that requires the Pentagon to rename nearly a dozen military bases that honor former leaders of the Confederacy.

The legislation also lacks language to repeal Section 230 of the 1996 Communications Decency Act that protects social media companies from being sued by anyone who feels wronged by content someone else has posted — whether their complaint is legitimate or not.

Mr. Trump cited both outcomes as reasons to reject the must-pass legislation.

A handful of key Republicans have rejected the White House’s demand, saying 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 defense bill has become a tempting target for other pet projects.

The bill includes a number of attractive features for lawmakers, including a 3% pay raise for troops, 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.

Mr. Trump previously has threatened to veto the defense policy legislation. But unlike this year, Republicans have quickly moved to strike a compromise with the president on his key criticisms.

The president has vetoed eight bills during his four years in office, and the 2021 defense bill marks the first time that Congress managed to assemble the two-thirds majority in each chamber needed to override him.

• Gabriella Muñoz can be reached at gmunoz@washingtontimes.com.

• Lauren Toms can be reached at lmeier@washingtontimes.com.

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