President Trump on Wednesday vetoed a major defense bill as promised, citing its failure to repeal legal protections for social media giants, plus its renaming of military bases that are tributes to Confederates, and other objections.
The president said the National Defense Authorization Act “fails even to make any meaningful changes to Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, despite bipartisan calls for repealing that provision.”
The president had vowed to veto the annual measure unless lawmakers inserted a late provision to repeal Section 230, the shield from litigation for companies such as Twitter and Facebook.
“Section 230 facilitates the spread of foreign disinformation online, which is a serious threat to our national security and election integrity. It must be repealed,” Mr. Trump said in his veto message.
The House and Senate had approved the massive bill by veto-proof majorities. Leaders in both parties already were planning to return to Washington after Christmas to attempt to override the expected veto.
The $740 billion bill sets annual priorities for defense spending, and is considered essential by both parties.
The president said his record as a national security hawk cannot be questioned.
“No one has worked harder, or approved more money for the military, than I have — over $2 trillion,” Mr. Trump told lawmakers. “During my 4 years, with the support of many others, we have almost entirely rebuilt the United States military, which was totally depleted when I took office. Your failure to terminate the very dangerous national security risk of Section 230 will make our intelligence virtually impossible to conduct without everyone knowing what we are doing at every step.”
The president also objected to the bill’s requirement for the Defense Department to rename installations that were named for Confederate figures.
He said the military bases “have taken on significance to the American story and those who have helped write it that far transcends their namesakes.”
“My administration respects the legacy of the millions of American servicemen and women who have served with honor at these military bases, and who, from these locations, have fought, bled, and died for their country,” Mr. Trump said. “From these facilities, we have won two World Wars. I have been clear in my opposition to politically motivated attempts like this to wash away history and to dishonor the immense progress our country has fought for in realizing our founding principles.”
The president said the bill would so weaken his foreign policy and his national-security objectives, it amounts to “a gift to China and Russia.”
He further objected to provisions that would restrict his efforts to withdraw troops from overseas.
“I oppose endless wars, as does the American public,” Mr. Trump said. “Over bipartisan objections, however, this act purports to restrict the president’s ability to withdraw troops from Afghanistan, Germany and South Korea. Not only is this bad policy, but it is unconstitutional.”
Democratic Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia, co-chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, slammed the president’s veto as “unconscionable.”
“The president’s decision to veto this bipartisan legislation on his way out the door poses a serious threat to U.S. national security,” Mr. Warner said. “It jeopardizes mission readiness and the well-being of our U.S. service members and their families, as well as military construction projects, investments in innovation and technology, and other critical defense priorities.”
Mr. Warner said he looks forward “to overriding the president’s fruitless and ridiculous attempt to undermine our national security over his shifting rationale for his decision to veto, including a provision to rename bases honoring Confederate military leaders — a provision that many in the president’s own party have supported.”
Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman James Inhofe, Oklahoma Republican, said he shares the president’s desire to repeal Section 230. But he said the issue shouldn’t sidetrack the annual defense bill.
“The NDAA has become law every year for 59 years straight because it’s absolutely vital to our national security and our troops,” Mr. Inhofe said. “This year must not be an exception. Our men and women who volunteer to wear the uniform shouldn’t be denied what they need — ever. This NDAA cements all the remarkable gains our military has made, thanks to President Trump’s leadership, and sends a strong message of support to our service members and their families.”
He encouraged an override of the veto.
“I hope all of my colleagues in Congress will join me in making sure our troops have the resources and equipment they need to defend this nation,” Mr. Inhofe said.