WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump is lashing out at congressional Republicans after the House easily voted to override his veto of a defense policy bill.
A total of 109 Republicans, including Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney, a member of GOP leadership, joined with Democrats to approve the override, which would be the first of Trump’s presidency. The Senate is expected to consider the measure later this week.
Trump slammed GOP lawmakers on Twitter, charging Tuesday that “Weak and tired Republican ‘leadership’ will allow the bad Defense Bill to pass.”
Trump called the override vote a “disgraceful act of cowardice and total submission by weak people to Big Tech. Negotiate a better Bill, or get better leaders, NOW! Senate should not approve NDAA until fixed!!!”
House members voted 322-87 on Monday to override the veto, well above the two-thirds needed to override. The vote sends the override effort to the Senate, although the exact timing is uncertain. Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders said he will delay a vote on the defense bill until Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell allows a vote on a Trump-backed plan to increase COVID-19 relief payments to $2,000.
“Let me be clear: If Senator McConnell doesn’t agree to an up or down vote to provide the working people of our country a $2,000 direct payment, Congress will not be going home for New Year’s Eve,” Sanders, an independent who caucuses with Democrats, said after the House vote. “Let’s do our job.”
McConnell has not said publicly how he will address the relief-check issue or the defense bill.
Trump rejected the defense measure last week, saying it failed to limit social media companies he claims were biased against him during his failed reelection campaign. Trump also opposes language that allows for the renaming of military bases that honor Confederate leaders.
The defense bill, known as the National Defense Authorization Act, or NDAA, affirms 3 percent pay raises for U.S. troops and authorizes more than $740 billion in military programs and construction.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-California, said after the House vote that lawmakers has done their part to ensure the NDAA becomes law “despite the president’s dangerous sabotage efforts.”
Trump’s “reckless veto would have denied our service members hazard-duty pay,” removed key protections for global peace and security and “undermined our nation’s values and work to combat racism, by blocking overwhelmingly bipartisan action to rename military bases,” Pelosi said.
Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Oklahoma, chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee, called the bill “absolutely vital to our national security and our troops,” adding, “Our men and women who volunteer to wear the uniform shouldn’t be denied what they need — ever.”
Trump has succeeded throughout his four-year term in enforcing party discipline in Congress, with few Republicans willing to publicly oppose him. The bipartisan vote on the widely popular defense bill showed the limits of Trump’s influence in the final weeks before he leaves office, and came minutes after 130 House Republicans voted against a Trump-supported plan to increase COVID-19 relief checks to $2,000. The House approved the larger payments, but the plan faces an uncertain future in the Republican-controlled Senate, another sign of Trump’s fading hold over Congress.
Besides social media and military base names, Trump also said the defense bill restricts his ability to conduct foreign policy, “particularly my efforts to bring our troops home.” Trump was referring to provisions in the bill that impose conditions on his plan to withdraw thousands of troops from Afghanistan and Germany. The measures require the Pentagon to submit reports certifying that the proposed withdrawals would not jeopardize U.S. national security.
The House veto override was supported by 212 Democrats, 109 Republicans and an independent. Twenty Democrats opposed the override, along with 66 Republicans and an independent.
House GOP leader Kevin McCarthy of California missed the vote, but Minority Whip Steve Scalise of Louisiana backed Trump in opposing the override. Rep. Mac Thornberry of Texas, the top Republican on the House Armed Services panel, supported the override. Thornberry is retiring this year and the bill is named in his honor.
The Senate approved the bill 84-13 earlier this month, well above the margin needed to override a presidential veto. Trump has vetoed eight other bills, but those were all sustained because supporters did not gain the two-thirds vote needed in each chamber for the bills to become law without Trump’s signature.
Rhode Island Sen. Jack Reed, the top Democrat on the Senate Armed Services Committee, said Trump’s declaration that China benefited from the defense bill was false. He also noted the shifting explanations Trump had given for the veto.
“From Confederate base names to social media liability provisions … to imaginary and easily refutable charges about China, it’s hard to keep track of President Trump’s unprincipled, irrational excuses for vetoing this bipartisan bill,” Reed said.
Reed called the Dec. 23 veto “Trump’s parting gift to [Russian President Vladimir] Putin and a lump of coal for our troops. Donald Trump is showing more devotion to Confederate base names than to the men and women who defend our nation.”
Rep. Adam Smith, D-Washington, chair of the House Armed Services Committee, said Trump’s veto “made it clear that he does not care about the needs of our military personnel and their families.”
The measure guides Pentagon policy and cements decisions about troop levels, new weapons systems and military readiness, personnel policy and other military goals. Many programs, including military construction, can only go into effect if the bill is approved.
McConnell, in a rare break with Trump, had urged passage of the defense bill despite Trump’s veto threat. The Kentucky Republican said it was important for Congress to continue its nearly six-decade-long streak of passing the defense policy bill.
Story by Matthew Daly.