Lawmakers Press for 'Strong Vote' on Defense Budget Bill to Thwart Trump Veto Threat

U.S. Marines and Sailors aboard the Wasp-class amphibious assault ship USS Essex (LHD-2) post security from the flight deck during exercise Steel Knight/Dawn Blitz (SK/DB) 21 off the coast of Southern California, Dec. 4, 2020. (U.S. Marine Corps/Lance Cpl. Cameron Rowe)
Military.com | By Patricia Kime

Senior lawmakers on the House Armed Services Committee said Monday the defense policy bill must pass this year, even if it means Congress has to return to Washington to override a veto from President Donald Trump.

The fiscal 2021 National Defense Authorization Act, which sets policy and other measures for the Department of Defense, has been approved by every Congress without fail for the last 59 years. But it faces a veto threat this year from the president because it doesn't include a measure repealing a portion of an unrelated law, the Communications Decency Act.

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Trump wants the bill to eliminate certain legal protections for social media companies -- provisions that keep Facebook, Twitter and other platforms from being held liable for content posted by users.

The protections also allow companies to remove content that violates their user agreements or they have deemed as offensive -- a shield that Trump says unfairly targets conservatives, and one the president himself has run afoul of, especially on Twitter.

Lawmakers on both the House and Senate side say the issue doesn't belong in the defense bill.

"The President has raised an issue that's not directly related to the NDAA. ... He did not raise the issue until the end of November, when we were literally almost a year into the process," Rep. Adam Smith, D-Wash., chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, said during a call with reporters. "There's no justification for a veto."

"We passed something like 30 bills last week, and guess what? Not one of them said something about social media liability," said Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, the ranking member of the committee.

Both lawmakers said if the $740 billion bill doesn't pass, it would delay policy provisions aimed at combating threats from China and Russia, and harm troops and readiness -- delaying bonuses, canceling training and halting plans for new housing projects and installation security initiatives.

"Several times during my tenure, we've had this specter of a government shutdown and the argument is Congress shouldn't go home while the government is shut down. It's not too hard to say that the Congress shouldn't go home when military families are going to see their compensation cut," Thornberry said.

The House passed its version of the defense bill July 21 with a vote of 295-125. The Senate passed its NDAA on July 23, 86-14. Differences have been ironed out between the two and passage of the finished bill is expected this week.

Earlier this year, Trump said he would veto any bill that contained any provision that required the Army to change the names of 10 installations that honor Confederate officers. The final bill establishes a commission to study the issue and requires the Defense Department to implement a plan to remove all names, symbols, displays and monuments that honor the Confederate States of America or anyone who voluntarily served for the Confederacy within three years.

But the social media issue has now become the focus of Trump's veto threat. He took to Twitter Dec. 1 calling the provisions, known as Section 230, "dangerous & unfair."

"If [Section 230] is not completely terminated as part of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), I will be forced to unequivocally VETO the Bill," Trump tweeted.

Thornberry, who is retiring at the end of this congressional term and is the namesake of next year’s NDAA, said he takes the threat seriously.

"[The president] is very upset at social media companies in particular, and the results of the election have poured fuel on the flames ... I know he's serious about it. But I also believe that most of my colleagues think this is not the place or the way to address the issue," Thornberry said.

Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said he favors a repeal of Section 230 -- just not in the defense bill.

The House is scheduled to vote on the bill Tuesday, while the Senate has not announced when it will bring the legislation up for a vote. The president has 10 days after passage to sign or reject the bill.

He can also choose not to sign the bill within the 10-day period, and if Congress has adjourned, as it is scheduled to do at the end of this week, it would be considered a veto.

Thornberry said he is hoping for an overwhelming vote in favor of the bill to ward off a veto threat.

"I'm hoping for a strong vote tomorrow. I think the stronger the vote, the less chance of having to deal with a veto later," Thornberry said.

Smith said should Trump veto the bill, the House should be ready to vote to override it -- either in person or by proxy.

"There are really no other possibilities, and if the president vetoes it, we will come back to vote override," Smith said.

The vote would require a two-thirds majority in each chamber. The separate bills surpassed that margin in initial passage.

-- Patricia Kime can be reached at Patricia.Kime@Monster.com. Follow her on Twitter @patriciakime.

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