Senate sends massive defense bill to Trump

President has threatened to veto the Pentagon policy measure

Senate Armed Services Chairman James M. Inhofe, right, and ranking member Jack Reed talk before a committee hearing in September. (Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Senate Armed Services Chairman James M. Inhofe, right, and ranking member Jack Reed talk before a committee hearing in September. (Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Posted December 11, 2020 at 1:43pm

The Senate on Friday voted overwhelmingly and on a bipartisan basis to send President Donald Trump a final defense authorization bill for fiscal 2021 — effectively daring him to follow through on his threat to veto it.

The Senate vote was 84-13 in favor of the $731.6 billion NDAA conference report.

The vote on adopting the measure came after an 84-13 vote earlier in the day to invoke cloture and limit debate on the conference report.

Trump has threatened to veto the legislation because it would not repeal legal protections for social media companies and because it would require the Pentagon to rename military bases named after Confederate soldiers.

Most members of Congress, however, would like to see the bill enacted for the 60th fiscal year in a row.

“This is the most important bill of the year,” Senate Armed Services Chairman James M. Inhofe, R-Okla., said in floor remarks Friday morning. “This is something we have to do.”

Timing questions

Now that the Senate has cleared the measure, it must be prepared for sending to the president — a process called enrollment that takes a few days.

If Trump holds true to his veto threat and if he takes the 10 days (excluding Sundays) that the Constitution allows before doing so, then he would veto it around Christmas — after lawmakers have, in all likelihood, left Washington.

House leaders have vowed to return to town for a veto override vote before the Jan. 3 start of the next Congress, but Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has yet to commit to that.

The NDAA conference report was adopted by both the House and Senate with strong majorities. The House vote on Dec. 8 was 335-78, with 140 of 180 Republicans backing the measure.

Still, it is not clear how many Republicans might vote against overriding a presidential veto, if it comes to that.

Paul’s protest

Senate action on the measure had been delayed for about a day as Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., had sought to draw attention to his opposition to a provision that would set conditions on the president’s planned withdrawal of more U.S.troops from Afghanistan.

Before more withdrawals from Afghanistan could take place, the NDAA conference report says, the Defense secretary would need to report to Congress on the risks of such an action, among other matters. The provision’s requirement could be waived by the president.

Paul’s protest also involved holding up a vote on a measure that would extend for another week a continuing resolution, or CR, that is funding federal operations while negotiations continue on a fiscal 2021 spending package.

Paul told reporters Friday morning that he has made his point about Afghanistan and will not continue his dilatory maneuvers on either bill.

“Our main point in filibustering the defense authorization bill was to point out that the president should have the prerogative to end a war, not just to start wars,” Paul said. “I think it's a pretty important principle to discuss so we did hold things up for a day on that but we're not going to on the CR.”

The NDAA’s most politically potent element is its authorization of pay and bonuses for military personnel. The NDAA is also indispensable for authorizing military construction programs and stipulating the number of men and women in uniform.

“This year’s NDAA will cement the historic steps that the Trump administration and Congress have taken over the last four years to rebuild and reequip a 21st century fighting force,” McConnell said in floor remarks Friday.

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