House passes compromise defense bill over Trump’s veto threats

The House overwhelmingly passed annual defense policy legislation Tuesday in the face of a veto threat from President Donald Trump.

Members easily approved the annual National Defense Authorization Act in a blowout 335 to 78 vote. The total far exceeds the two-thirds majority needed to overturn Trump, who is threatening to nix the $741 billion bill because it doesn’t include a repeal of legal liability protections for social media companies.

The bill now heads to the Senate, which is expected to soon vote and send the measure to Trump’s desk.

Leaders in both parties have been bullish that the bill will get a strong vote, but there may be some headwinds on an override. The top House Republican leader has said he won’t vote to override a veto and a bloc of conservative Republicans staked out their opposition to the bill.

In the days since rolling out their compromise bill last week, leaders of the House and Senate Armed Services committees have warned that it’s their bill this month, or bust. House Democrats have said they’ll cut a holiday recess short and return to Capitol Hill for a veto override.

On the House floor, Democratic and Republican Armed Services members underscored the need to enact the defense bill, which has become law each year for 59 consecutive years. That streak, along with hundreds of bipartisan provisions and key pay and benefits measures for troops, hang in the balance.

“Let’s not walk away from our biggest opportunity every year to exercise that legislative oversight,” House Armed Services Chair Adam Smith (D-Wash.) said. “This is a good bill. If we don’t do this, we are not fulfilling one key aspect of our duties to our constituents.”

Trump pledged to veto the defense bill after making an eleventh-hour demand to include a repeal of the online company shield, known as Section 230. He reiterated the threat on Twitter on Tuesday and urged Republican to oppose the bill ahead of the vote.

“I hope House Republicans will vote against the very weak National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which I will VETO,” Trump tweeted. “Must include a termination of Section 230 (for National Security purposes), preserve our National Monuments, & allow for 5G & troop reductions in foreign lands!”

The White House reiterated the veto threat in a statement issued ahead of Tuesday’s vote. The administration said the bill “fails to include critical national security measures, includes provisions that fail to respect our veterans and our military’s history, and contradicts efforts by this Administration to put America first.”

Lawmakers in both parties and in both chambers have largely brushed off Trump’s demand, with some leaders predicting a large enough vote may convince the president to back off.

Republican Don Bacon, like many GOP lawmakers, called for a separate debate and vote on repealing Section 230, which isn’t a military issue and falls outside of the Armed Services jurisdiction.

“For members considering to vote no because of this issue, ask yourself, do you think you’ll get a better bill in two months?” Bacon asked. “The answer is no.”

The compromise bill is named for Rep. Mac Thornberry of Texas, the top House Armed Services Republican, who is retiring from Congress after 13 terms. Thornberry urged lawmakers not to tank the bill over issues, like Section 230, that aren’t related to national security.

“I know we can always find an excuse to vote against a bill, especially an excuse about what’s not in it,” Thornberry said. “Our troops should not be punished because this bill does not fix everything that needs to be fixed.”

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer predicted the chamber can muster the votes to override a veto. But his counterpart, Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California, said he won’t help enact the bill over Trump’s objections.

“I would not vote to override a veto,” McCarthy told reporters.

Members of the conservative, Trump-aligned House Freedom Caucus are also opposing the defense bill, though many already opposed the bill on the House floor over the summer.

Over the summer, Trump also threatened a veto if the defense bill would force the renaming of bases that honor Confederate leaders. The final bill includes a provision, authored by Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), that would give the Pentagon three years to change the names of bases and other military assets.

Both the House and Senate passed their bills in July with veto-proof majorities despite the threat.

The White House has also bristled at provisions that place guardrails on Trump’s aims to draw down troops from Afghanistan and Germany, both of which have drawn bipartisan opposition.

One of Trump’s closest allies in the House, Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), slammed the bill as “too swampy,” criticizing provisions that would constrain Trump’s troop drawdowns.

“This good bill has been hijacked by the forever war lobby and their bought and paid for allies in the United States Congress,” Gaetz said. “It puts barriers in the way of an administration that wants to bring our troops home and put America first.”

Within the $741 billion budget top line, the bill authorizes $635.5 billion for the base Pentagon budget and $26.6 billion for nuclear programs under the Energy Department. Another $69 billion goes toward the war-related Overseas Contingency Operations account.

In addition to renaming bases and limiting troop withdrawals from Europe and Afghanistan, the bill also boosts numerous Pentagon weapons accounts.

The final bill authorizes the purchase of 93 new Lockheed Martin-built F-35 fighters, 14 more than the Defense Department requested.

It also greenlights $23.4 billion for the Navy’s shipbuilding account, $3.5 billion more than the service requested, to build nine new warships. Lawmakers included a second Virginia-class attack submarine after the Trump administration initially requested funding for just one boat.

The compromise bill also authorizes a 3 percent troop pay raise.

The bill also sets aside $2.2 billion for a new Pacific Deterrence Initiative to boost the U.S. military presence in the Indo-Pacific region and deter China.

It also creates a Senate-confirmed national cyber director post, as recommended by the Cyberspace Solarium Commission, despite opposition from the White House.