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US Congress hands Trump 'resounding rebuke' as it overrides his defense bill veto

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Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Ky., walks to the Senate floor on Capitol Hill in Washington on Dec 30, 2020.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Ky., walks to the Senate floor on Capitol Hill in Washington on Dec 30, 2020.   -   Copyright  AP Photo/Susan Walsh
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The US Congress on Friday overrode President Donald Trump's veto of a defense policy bill, a first by lawmakers since he took office nearly four years ago.

The measure, backed on Monday by the House of Representatives, will now become law.

The vote in an extraordinary New Year's Day session saw the Republican-controlled Senate deliver a stinging rebuke to the outgoing president by dismissing his objections to the $740 billion (€610 billion) bill.

Trump took to Twitter to express his displeasure, arguing senators had failed to remove protections for social media platforms that he said give "unlimited power to Big Tech companies. Pathetic!!!"

He also slammed lawmakers for rejecting his call to increase COVID-19 relief payments to $2,000 (€1,648): "Not fair, or smart!"

The bill plans a 3 per cent pay raise for U.S. troops and guides defense policy, cementing decisions about troop levels, new weapons systems and military readiness, personnel policy and other military goals.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi after the vote that Congress had "delivered a resounding rebuke to President Trump’s reckless assault on America’s military and national security."

Trump's veto of the National Defense Authorization Act, or NDAA, "would have hurt the health, financial security and safety of our servicemembers, their families, our veterans and our allies and partners worldwide," Pelosi said. "Instead of keeping Americans safe, the president continues to use his final moments in office to sow chaos and undermine our security."

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, said that the bill also provides "a tremendous opportunity: to direct our national security priorities to reflect the resolve of the American people and the evolving threats to their safety, at home and abroad. It’s our chance to ensure we keep pace with competitors like Russia and China."

Trump vetoed the defense measure last week, saying it failed to limit Twitter and other social media companies he claimed were biased against him during his failed reelection campaign. Trump also opposed language that allows for the renaming of military bases that honour Confederate leaders.

Trump has succeeded throughout his four-year term in enforcing party discipline in Congress, with few Republicans willing to publicly oppose him. The bipartisan overrides on the defense bill showed the limits of Trump’s influence in the final weeks of his term.

He will leave the White House on January 20 to be replaced by Joe Biden.

Earlier this week, 130 House Republicans voted against the Trump-backed COVID relief checks, with many arguing they were unnecessary and would increase the federal budget deficit. The Democratic-controlled House approved the larger payments, but the plan fizzled in the Senate amid opposition from McConnell and other Republicans, another sign of Trump’s fading hold over Congress.

Only seven GOP senators voted with Trump to oppose the defense bill override. Forty Republicans — including the entire GOP leadership — voted for the override, along with 41 Democrats. Sanders and five other liberals who opposed the defense bill also voted against the override.

Besides his concerns about social media and military base names, Trump also complained that the bill restricted his ability to withdraw thousands of troops from Afghanistan and Germany. The measure requires the Pentagon to submit reports certifying that the proposed withdrawals would not jeopardize U.S. national security.

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, called Trump's Dec. 23 veto a “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.”