- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 23, 2020

The Senate on Thursday overwhelmingly passed its version of the massive annual defense policy bill, defying defies a veto threat from President Trump by calling on the Pentagon to rename military bases that honor Confederate leaders.

The Senate’s 2021 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) presents a top-line budget of $740.5 billion, authorizing $636.4 billion for the Pentagon’s budget, $25.9 billion for national security efforts within the Department of Energy, and $69 billion for finance contingency military missions abroad.

The bill was approved by a margin of 86-14, far more than the two-thirds threshold needed to override a veto. The Democratic-led House this week approved its version of the must-pass legislation — also calling for the stripping of Confederate base names — by a similar veto-proof margin.

While much horse-trading remains to be done before a final NDAA version is passed this fall, the level of support could foreshadow the first time Mr. Trump has failed to sustain a veto during his presidency.

Mr. Trump on Tuesday issued a blistering threat to reject the House’s version of the defense policy bill — which was approved the same day — over language that would rename military bases that honor Confederate leaders, as well as provisions to curb the president’s plans to slash U.S. troop levels in Afghanistan and Germany.

The House’s version of the bill mandates renaming 12 military bases, including North Carolina’s Fort Bragg and Virginia’s Fort Lee, over the next year. The Senate’s version would mandate the change over the period of three years. Conservative efforts to give more time to study the issue were rejected.

The Senate’s provision, first offered by Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Massachusetts Democrat, establishes a commission to instruct the defense secretary on how to scrub all “names, symbols, displays, monuments, and paraphernalia that honor or commemorate the Confederate States of America … or any person who served voluntarily with the Confederate States of America from all assets of the Department of Defense.”

While the White House never issued a formal veto threat against the Republican-led Senate’s version of the bill, Mr. Trump’s stark opposition is likely to cloud the talks as the two chambers head into negotiations for the final bill.

Senate Republicans have tried to discourage Mr. Trump from launching veto threats against the crucial must-pass legislation — which gives those in the ranks a 3% pay raise and sets defense policy and budget standards on a range of military priorities.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, this week told Fox News he hoped “the president will reconsider vetoing the entire defense bill, which includes pay raises for our troops, over a provision in there that could lead to changing the names.”

Senators also clashed over several policies before the final vote, including one that would have placed limits the military-grade weapons the Pentagon could transfer to local police departments and an amendment that would have forced the administration to justify much more fully Mr. Trump’s plans to draw down the number of U.S. troops in Germany. Both efforts were rejected.

But the House NDAA bill does include the provision on German troop levels, which was unsuccessfully pushed in the upper chamber by Sen. Mitt Romney, Utah Republican.

The main authors of the traditionally bipartisan bill praised Thursday’s vote.

“By fully investing in our military growth and modernization, we’re restoring deterrence so no country wants to challenge us,” Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman James Inhofe, Oklahoma Republican, said in a statement. “I don’t want a fair fight out there, I want to be superior — and this bill does that.”

Rhode Island Sen. Jack Reed, the committee’s ranking Democrat, said that the bill “strengthens our military and bolsters our capacity to effectively defend America from evolving security challenges.”

“Now we must meet in conference with the House to iron out some differences and develop a unified defense bill that enhances national security and provides our troops with decisive, lasting advantages and powerful, force-multiplying assets,” Mr. Reed said.

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