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On the same day President Donald Trump issued a veto threat against a defense spending bill named after a retiring Texas congressman, the U.S. House responded by passing the legislation with such a large margin that, for the first time in his presidency, Trump could face a veto override.
The National Defense Authorization Act is a massive annual bill that addresses spending within the armed forces and rarely encounters obstacles en route to passage. But this year, Trump threatened to veto the NDAA the day of the vote.
"I hope House Republicans will vote against the very weak National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which I will VETO," Trump tweeted Tuesday morning. "Must include a termination of Section 230 (for National Security purposes), preserve our National Monuments, & allow for 5G & troop reductions in foreign lands!"
Trump has two main objections to the bill. First, it doesn't do away with a legal protection for social media companies that he has long sought but is not related to key issues the NDAA addresses. And second, it calls for renaming military bases honoring Confederate leaders.
The NDAA passed with a margin of 335-78, well above the two-thirds that will be needed to override a presidential veto. Should Trump follow through on his veto threat, the two chambers would have to return over the Christmas holidays to vote on a veto override, but the margin of passage was an overall relief to senior members of Congress.
The legislation is named in honor of U.S. Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-Clarendon, who is the top Republican of the House Armed Services Committee. The bill marks his last major legislative action ahead of his retirement early next year. The bill's sponsor was Thornberry's Democratic counterpart, House Armed Services Chairman Adam Smith of Washington, who named the legislation the William M. (Mac) Thornberry National Defense Authorization Act.
A news release from the Republican side of the committee was emphatic on the need to pass the bill.
"As the House prepares to vote on final passage of the ... National Defense Authorization Act, media is carrying stories on the consequences if the conference report is not enacted by the end of the calendar year," the press release stated. "Unlike other pieces of legislation, conference reports cannot be reintroduced and immediately taken up in a new congress. The process, which could be expected to take several months, would need to begin all over again."
Thornberry suggested support for nixing the legal shield provision but objected to the process of addressing that matter in the defense spending legislation.
“The stronger the vote, the better the case is that Section 230 needs to be addressed, but in a different place and in a different way,” he said Monday, according to Politico. “Doing it on the defense bill, airdropping it at the last minute, is not the right way.”
Senior members in both chambers are warning that the legislative delay could affect troops' pay in the new year.
The Texans who voted against the bill were all Republicans: U.S. Reps. Jodey Arrington of Lubbock, Brian Babin of Woodville, Michael Cloud of Victoria, Louie Gohmert of Tyler, Lance Gooden of Terrell and Chip Roy of Austin.
Cloud released a statement soon after the vote.
"This year's NDAA had key provisions that I could not support," he said. "To begin with, it would hinder the president's ability to withdraw troops from the Middle East."
The bill was the product of a House and Senate conference, and the Senate chamber is expected to quickly vote on the bill. U.S. Sen. John Cornyn told Politico he anticipated the NDAA “will pass one way or the other with a strong bipartisan vote.”
“I know there are parts of it the president doesn’t like. There are parts of it I don’t like. But you’ve got to take it as a whole,” he added.
The bill included a provision authored by U.S. Rep. Al Green, a Houston Democrat, that provided for a government study on cyber risk insurance to mitigate ransomware attacks on businesses.
Disclosure: Politico has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune's journalism. Find a complete list of them here.