President Donald Trump on Wednesday vetoed the fiscal 2021 defense authorization bill, making good on repeated vows to do so and setting the stage for an eleventh-hour override vote in Congress.
That override vote could coincide with a similar vote to counter Trump’s newest comments, made Tuesday night, in which he hinted he might veto the recently passed omnibus spending and coronavirus aid package.
The prospect of a presidential veto on both the defense policy measure, known as the National Defense Authorization Act, and the catch-all tax and spending package has cut the holiday season short for lawmakers who must also contend with the possibility of a partial government shutdown at midnight on Dec. 28 when the latest stopgap funding bill expires.
The Senate cleared the $731.6 billion NDAA on Dec. 11. The massive legislation includes provisions for military pay raises, the construction of military housing and the creation of programs aimed at deterring China, among thousands of others.
Trump has taken issue with a provision that would rename military bases that honor Confederate generals and with the lack of a provision that would deprive social media companies of their legal liability shields.
The president also balked at language that would impose limits on how many troops can be withdrawn from Afghanistan and Germany — and how quickly.
“Unfortunately, the Act fails to include critical national security measures, includes provisions that fail to respect our veterans and our military’s history, and contradicts efforts by my Administration to put America first in our national security and foreign policy actions. It is a gift to China and Russia,” read a veto message released Wednesday by the White House.
But the conference report for the NDAA was adopted in both chambers of Congress with veto-proof majorities, 83-14 in the Senate and 335-78 in the House, and enjoys wide-ranging bipartisan support. It is considered a must-pass piece of legislation that has been enacted every year for the past 59 years.
The House plans to return Dec. 28 for an override vote. The Senate is next scheduled to meet for business Dec. 29, and Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said early Tuesday morning that the chamber could take up the matter then if the House votes to override a veto.
Congress could also use those days to vote on overturning a veto on the government funding and coronavirus relief package. But Trump has 10 days, excluding Sundays, to sign or veto that bill, a timeline that could extend well beyond the Dec. 28 expiration of the current continuing resolution.
Lawmakers on Wednesday were quick to signal their readiness to vote in favor of overriding Trump’s veto.
“Donald Trump just vetoed a pay raise for our troops so he can defend dead Confederate traitors. Democrats will vote to override it,” Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer tweeted.
“The NDAA has become law every year for 59 years straight because it’s absolutely vital to our national security and our troops. This year must not be an exception,” Senate Armed Services Chairman James M. Inhofe, typically a staunch Trump ally, said in a statement Wednesday. “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.”
The Oklahoma Republican’s counterpart in the House, Armed Services Chairman Adam Smith, echoed the message.
“The FY21 NDAA passed with overwhelming, veto-proof support in both the House and Senate, and I remain confident that Congress will override this harmful veto. While the President may not care about our service members and their families, Congress still places an immense value on their service and sacrifice,” the Washington Democrat said in a statement.
Lawmakers were joined by defense contractors in their support for an override vote.
“The President’s veto undermines our national security preparedness and jeopardizes the jobs of Americans who make up our defense industrial base at a time when the country is in crisis,” Eric Fanning, the president of the Aerospace Industries Association, said in a statement. “We urge Congress to prioritize national security and override this veto.”