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In defiance of Trump, Senate overrides defense veto

Bipartisan rebuke extends streak of passing NDAA to 60 years

The Senate voted 81-13 on Friday to override President Donald Trump’s veto of the fiscal 2021 defense authorization bill, marking a rebuke to the outgoing commander in chief that paves the way for the annual bill to become law for the 60th straight year.

The long-anticipated vote comes two days before the start of a new Congress, avoiding what would have been a lengthy process of re-drafting the measure in the new year.

The veto override got caught up in political jockeying over $2,000 economic relief checks to Americans affected by the coronavirus pandemic. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., tried to tie the pandemic relief checks to two unrelated efforts backed by Trump: revoking liability protection for social media companies and a study of the 2020 election. That prompted backlash from Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., which led to procedural roadblocks for the defense veto override. 

Georgia GOP Sens. Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue, who are in runoff elections that will decide which party controls the Senate and are scheduled to appear at a rally with Trump on Monday, did not vote on the override. They did support the final bill on Dec.11 despite Trump’s veto threat. Perdue’s campaign announced Thursday he and his wife were quarantining after a campaign aide he was in close contact with tested positive for COVID-19.

The massive, $731.6 billion piece of legislation, known as the National Defense Authorization Act, includes provisions for military pay raises, the construction of military housing and sweeping improvements to the federal government’s approach to cybersecurity, among thousands of others.

Trump took issue with a provision that would rename military bases that honor Confederate figures. He also criticized the bill because it would not repeal legal protections for social media companies found in Section 230 of a 1996 communications law. The president had also balked at language that would impose limits on how many troops could be withdrawn from Afghanistan and Germany — and how quickly.

The NDAA passed both chambers of Congress with veto-proof majorities, 83-14 in the Senate and 335-78 in the House. The House on Monday voted to override the veto, 322-87.

Senate Armed Services Chairman James M. Inhofe, who previously noted that there was nothing that could be done to change a bill that had already passed the House and Senate, expressed his displeasure with the timing of the veto override.

“To  all these people who live here, they don’t care. But I care,” Inhofe said Dec. 29. 

The NDAA’s legislative track record is unparalleled among authorizing committees and gives the House and Senate Armed Services panels a tremendous amount of sway in Pentagon policymaking. 

Niels Lesniewski contributed to this report. 

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