President Trump suffered his first legislative defeat at Congress’s hands, January 1, as the annual National Defense Authorisation Act (NDAA) completed its passage across Capital Hill. Five days earlier, the House of Representatives voted to override the president’s veto of the massive defense bill. On Friday, the Senate completed the job, voting 81-13 to nullify Mr. Trump’s refusal to sign the legislation.
Several aspects of the bill drew the president’s ire, and his veto had not been unexpected. “My Administration has taken strong actions to help keep our Nation safe and support our service members,” Trump’s veto statement said.” I will not approve this bill, which would put the interests of the Washington, D.C. establishment over those of the American people.”
Disputes Over Defense Bill
Among the contentious issues was a provision that requires the Pentagon to rename military bases that currently bear Confederate officers’ names. Additionally, the president had demanded the inclusion of a repeal of the much-discussed Section 230, which essentially provides immunity to tech companies from liability over the content published to their online platforms.
The president and his supporters – along with some Republican members of Congress – argue that social media companies have now assumed the role of publishers. These companies claim they are not directly responsible for content posted by their users, but they have increasingly interfered with that content, arbitrarily censoring that which tech execs or employees find politically objectionable.
Many lawmakers, including several Republicans, argued, however, that the dispute over Section 230 had nothing to do with the NDAA. Still, that position is something of a red herring since legislators routinely pack riders and provisions into bills that have little, if anything, to do with the main purpose of the bills in question.
Despite some tweets calling on Republicans to negotiate a better deal over the defense bill, the president had not put a lot of pressure on lawmakers to oppose a veto override. “I think it was more about making a statement than anything else,” said Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX), implying that Trump had expected the defeat on NDAA.
There were some notable absences from the Senate vote. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) did not vote, even though he had previously expressed support for the bill. Also, Georgia Republican Senators David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler, who face runoff elections on Tuesday, did not cast votes.
A less-reported facet of the NDAA, though, is its influence over defense policy. In particular, the bill vetoed by the president limits his ability to order additional troop withdrawals from Iraq and Afghanistan. Neoconservatives on Capitol Hill and within the Department of Defense have continually pushed back against Trump’s efforts to extricate the U.S. from interminable foreign entanglements. Democrats, too – despite once portraying themselves as anti-war – have opposed this president’s determination to end America’s two most protracted military engagements.
Read more from Graham J. Noble.