Trump Vetoes FY2021 NDAA, Setting Up Override Votes Next Week

Trump Vetoes FY2021 NDAA, Setting Up Override Votes Next Week

President Trump vetoed the FY2021 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) today, waiting until the last minute to follow through on his repeated threats to do so. The bill passed the House and Senate with wide “veto-proof” margins, but whether enough Republicans will break with their President when it comes to overriding his veto is another question. The House is expected to try on Monday. If successful, the Senate would follow on Tuesday.

Trump first vowed to kill the legislation because it requires military installations named in honor of Confederate soldiers to be renamed. Months later he added a demand to repeal a section of a completely unrelated law, Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, that protects Internet companies from liability for content posted by third parties. Recently he has added more complaints as outlined in his veto message today, but the base-renaming and Section 230 issues are the main hurdles.

The House and Senate passed their respective versions of the bill, H.R. 6395 and S. 4049, with wide margins this summer each including a base-renaming requirement. Nonetheless, in response to Trump’s veto threat, Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) Chairman Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK), one of Trump’s strongest supporters in the Senate, asserted he would be sure it was removed during conference negotiations. Apparently to delay a showdown prior to the 2020 presidential elections, further work on the NDAA was postponed.

After Trump lost the election, Inhofe relented on the base-renaming issue. The House and Senate had different language, but the intent was the same and trying to remove it might well have doomed the bill. Inhofe’s focus is ensuring the NDAA is signed into law. He agrees completely with Trump’s position against renaming bases, but insists that is not a reason to kill the bill. He also supports repealing Section 230, but argues the NDAA is not the place to do it.

SASC members and their House Armed Services Committee (HASC) counterparts are immensely proud that despite whatever the level of partisan discord over the decades, Congress has passed and the President has signed an NDAA every year since the first in 1961. This will be the 60th NDAA in a row.

House and Senate Democrats and Republicans agreed on a final version of the bill earlier this month essentially adopting Senate language that requires establishment of a three-year commission to develop binding recommendations on renaming military installations and other DOD assets that honor the Confederacy in consultation with local authorities.  The Section 230 repeal is not included.

The final version of the bill passed the House on December 8 by a vote of 335-78-1 and the Senate on December 11 by a vote of 84-13.

Both are considered “veto-proof” margins because it takes two-thirds of the House and two-thirds of the Senate to override a veto and more than that voted for the bill.

However, voting to override a veto by a president of one’s own party is a different political calculus than voting for a bill.  How many Republicans actually will vote to override Trump’s veto is a major unknown. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) already said he will not vote to override even though he voted for the bill.  Conversely, Democrats who opposed the bill might vote in favor of the override. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) has said that even though she voted no on the bill, she will vote yes to override a veto.

Presidents have 10 days, excluding Sundays, to sign or veto a bill once it is presented to them. Today was the end of that time period for H.R. 6395 and Trump waited until late afternoon to send his veto message to Congress.

Congress was expecting it, however. The House already set December 28 as the date it will try to override the veto. If successful, the Senate take it up on December 29.

Inhofe and his HASC counterpart, Rep. Adam Smith (D-WA), immediately issued statements imploring colleagues to save the bill because of its importance to the defense of the nation.

SASC Chairman Jim Inhofe (R-OK): “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. 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. 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. We can and should use another legislative vehicle to repeal Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act – a priority the President and I share.”

HASC Chairman Adam Smith (D-WA): “By choosing to veto the NDAA, President Trump has made it clear that [he] does not care about the needs of our military personnel and their families. If the FY21 NDAA does not become law, more than 100,000 federal employees will be deprived of the paid parental leave benefits they deserve, necessary military construction projects will not move forward on schedule, and our service members who are in harm’s way defending our country’s principles will not have access to the hazard pay they are owed.

“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.”

December 28 has just become a pivotal date for another reason.

While the NDAA veto was expected, Trump’s surprise announcement last night that he wants changes to the FY2021 Consolidated Appropriations Act/COVID-19 Relief bill passed by the House and Senate on Monday has thrown the Capitol into a tailspin. Trump’s representatives who negotiated the bill with House and Senate leaders assured them Trump would sign it. Now he wants larger direct payments to individuals — $2,000 instead of $600 per person — aligning himself with Democrats who have been pushing for the larger payments for months against Republican opposition.

That bill, H.R. 133, funds the government for the rest of FY2021. The government has been operating under a series of Continuing Resolution (CRs) since FY2021 began on October 1. The most recent CR was enacted on Monday and will expire this coming Monday, December 28, at midnight. If Trump does not sign H.R. 133 by then, or Congress does not pass another CR, most of the government will have to shut down.

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