Senate Easily Passes U.S. Defense Bill Despite Trump Veto Threat

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The Republican-led Senate overwhelmingly passed a crucial $740.5 billion U.S. defense policy bill, rebuffing a veto threat by President Donald Trump, who demanded that it include an unrelated provision to strip protections from social-media companies.

The Friday vote was 84-13, which would be more than enough to override a Trump veto.

The House this week passed the measure by a vote of 335-78, indicating that threats from Trump didn’t deter broad support for the crucial annual bill, and the president could face the first veto override of his tenure. It now heads to the president’s desk.

Trump also has said he would veto the legislation because it includes a provision for renaming bases that honor Confederate generals. On social-media firms, he’s called for the repeal of a law protecting them from liability for most of their user-generated content.

The vote went ahead on Friday after a temporary hold-up from Kentucky Republican Rand Paul, who opposed one of the provisions regarding drawing down troops in Afghanistan. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said this week that most senators support the defense bill, despite Trump’s veto threat.

Unbroken Streak

“Now it’s the Senate’s turn to make it an unbroken 60-year streak of passing this legislation to keep our military strong and our homeland safe,” McConnell said.

The bill, H.R. 6395, is considered must-pass legislation because it authorizes not only billions of dollars for weapons systems but also benefits for U.S. troops. The measure would increase hazardous duty pay to $275 from $250 per month.

Senate Armed Services Chairman Jim Inhofe, a Trump ally who’s now at odds with the president, called the defense measure “the most important bill of the year.”

“In voting against it, you have to stop and think about those kids that are out there in harm’s way and the threats that they are facing on a regular basis,” Inhofe, an Oklahoma Republican, said on the Senate floor Friday. “This is a serious thing that’s out there, and I can’t imagine wanting to have to face these people in the field, in harm’s way and say, well, we didn’t pass a defense authorization bill.”

Aircraft, Ships

The bill would authorize $732 billion in discretionary spending for national defense, including $69 billion for overseas contingency operations. It also authorizes funding for 93 F-35 fighter jets built by Lockheed Martin Corp. after the Trump administration requested 79.

It also would back funding for the construction of two Virginia-class submarines a year, after the administration originally requested funding for only one to free up money for nuclear deterrence. It would provides contract authority for as many as two nuclear Columbia-class submarines made by General Dynamics Corp.

Trump wanted to attach to the defense measure an unrelated provision to eliminate Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, the measure that protects technology companies from liability for most content published by their users.

There’s some support from lawmakers of both parties to modify or eliminate Section 230, but members responsible for the defense bill have said it’s the wrong place to wage that battle.

Trump Question

Despite multiple threats, it’s yet unclear whether Trump will go through with his veto threat or whether GOP lawmakers can convince him to sign the defense authorization bill. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said the House would return to Washington for an override vote if necessary. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell hasn’t yet said what he plans to do.

The legislation would establish a commission to study and provide recommendations, within three years, on the removal of names, symbols, displays and monuments that honor or commemorate the Confederacy. It would also address diversity in the military ranks by requiring the removal of personal identifiers in promotion and selection pitches, a step backed by Democratic Representatives Jackie Speier of California and Anthony Brown of Maryland.

The defense measure would establish a Pacific deterrence initiative to counter China’s influence in the region. Congress plans to authorize $2.2 billion for the new effort designed to bolster the U.S. defense posture and weapons and alliances in the region.

Lawmakers took aim at Russia with provisions including additional sanctions on Turkey for purchasing a Russian-made missile defense system, as well as penalties on the Nord Stream 2 natural gas pipeline from Russia to Germany.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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