House Passes Final FY2021 NDAA With “Veto-Proof” Majority

House Passes Final FY2021 NDAA With “Veto-Proof” Majority

The House passed the conference version of the FY2021 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) today by a vote of 335-78-1. The margin is wide enough to overturn a threatened veto by the President, which requires a two-thirds vote of the House and Senate.  Voting to override a veto is a different political calculus that voting in favor of a bill, however, so the NDAA’s fate is anything but clear.  The next step is a vote in the Senate.

President Trump has been threatening to veto the bill, H.R. 6395, for months because the versions passed by both the House and Senate require DOD to rename military installations currently named for Confederate soldiers.  More recently he began insisting that the bill also repeal part of an unrelated law, Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, that protects Internet companies from liability for content posted by others on their platforms.

Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK), chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) and one of Trump’s strongest allies in the Senate, initially backed the President on the base-naming issue, but last week pushed back on that and the new Section 230 complaint. While he agrees with the President substantively on both topics, he does not want them to derail the entire NDAA.  If enacted, this will be the 60th year in a row that both parties have overcome political differences to get an NDAA passed.

Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-Texas)

Inhofe and his House and Senate conference committee colleagues agreed on a final version of the bill last Thursday.

Trump chastised Inhofe via Twitter and renewed his veto threat that day.  Just prior to today’s vote, the Administration made it official in a Statement of Administration policy.

The House ordinarily has 435 members, but currently there are 5 vacancies.  If all 430 members vote, it would take two-thirds, or 287, to override a veto and 335 voted in favor of the bill today.

The 335 votes in favor were cast by 195 Democrats and 140 Republicans. Those against were 37 Democrats, 40 Republicans, and 1 Libertarian. One Democrat voted present (abstained).

While the vote is being characterized as veto-proof, that remains to be seen. There are 233 Democrats, 196 Republicans, and 1 Libertarian in the House, so Democrats cannot override it on their own. How many Republicans who voted in favor of the bill, but would not agree to overturn a Trump veto is the question. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), for example, already told reporters today that he would not override a veto even though he supported the bill.

The bill authorizes $732 billion for defense in FY2021 and has a number of provisions that affect the U.S. Space Force and space programs.

The bill is named in honor of Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-TX), the top Republican on the House Armed Services Committee (HASC) and a former chairman, who is retiring at the end of this Congress.  He and HASC Chairman Adam Smith (D-WA) said after the conference agreement was reached last week that “For 59 straight years, the NDAA has passed because Members of Congress and Presidents of both parties have set aside their own policy objectives and partisan preferences and put the needs of our military personnel and America’s security first.  The time has come to do that again.”

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