The Democratic-controlled House of Representatives has voted overwhelmingly to override US President Donald Trump’s veto of a defence policy bill, setting the stage for what would be the first veto override of his presidency.
House members voted 322-87 on Monday to override the veto, well above the two-thirds needed. The Senate, which is expected to vote on the override this week, also needs to approve it by a two-thirds majority.
Trump rejected the defence bill last week, saying it failed to limit social media companies he claims were biased against him during his failed re-election campaign. Trump also opposes language that allows for the renaming of military bases that honour Confederate leaders.
The defence bill, known as the National Defense Authorization Act, or NDAA, affirms 3% pay raises for U.S. troops and authorizes more than $740bn (€604bn) in military programs and construction.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said after the vote that the House had done its 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.
Senator Jim Inhofe, chairman 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 defence 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 (€1,634). 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.
Trump has offered a series of rationales for rejecting the defence bill. He urged lawmakers to impose limits on Twitter and other social media companies he claimed are biased against him, as well as to strip out language that allows for the renaming of military bases such as Fort Benning and Fort Hood that honour Confederate leaders. Trump also claimed without evidence that the biggest winner from the defence bill would be China.
In his veto message, Trump also said the 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 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 Wyoming Representative Liz Cheney, a member of Republican leadership, supported the override, as did Representative Mac Thornberry of Texas, the top Republican on the House Armed Services panel. Thornberry is retiring this year and the bill is named in his honour.
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 Senator Jack Reed, the top Democrat on the Senate Armed Services Committee, said Trump’s declaration that China gained from the defence 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 December 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.''
Representative Adam Smith, chairman 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.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, in a rare break with Trump, had urged passage of the defence bill despite Trump’s veto threat. McConnell said it was important for Congress to continue its nearly six-decade-long streak of passing the defence policy bill.