Trump Jams GOP as Defense Veto Threat Hangs Over Senate Runoffs

Donald Trump’s promise to veto a bipartisan defense bill is undercutting Republican lawmakers and is poised to force them to override him on the eve of crucial Senate runoff elections, exposing fresh divisions between the president and his party in the waning days of his tenure.

Trump is expected to veto the annual must-pass legislation on Wednesday, his final window of opportunity to make good on his pledge. He opposes a provision that would change the names of military bases that honor Confederate leaders, and he has also demanded that lawmakers add an unrelated provision to repeal liability protections for social media companies.

But the bipartisan bill is widely viewed as far more important than those provisions. It sets U.S. military policy priorities -- including hazard-pay increases for troops, military construction, cybersecurity provisions and the creation of a Pacific deterrence fund -- and passed both chambers of Congress with veto-proof majorities.

Now, Trump’s choice to fight over the National Defense Authorization Act -- a bill that has become law every year for the past 59 years -- is testing his party’s loyalty, forcing lawmakers to either reverse course on legislation that delivers pay increases to troops or risk the president’s ire.

Amid the frenzied push to pass a sprawling spending deal this week, lawmakers also took steps to tee up a veto override. The House will come back on Dec. 28 if there’s a veto. If that transpires, the Senate will have the opportunity to “process” the veto override the next day, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said early Tuesday. That could set up a Senate vote on Jan. 3, the last day of the current Congress.

Read more: Trump’s Defense Veto Threat Imperils Security Upgrades for Nukes

Trump’s complaints are jamming Republicans far more than Democrats, who are certain to vote overwhelmingly, if not unanimously, to override any veto. Republicans, meanwhile, will have to choose between rebuking Trump or delaying the flagship $740.5 billion defense bill, opening up a line of attack for Democrats.

Perils of Override

An override would put Senators Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue -- who are trying to defend their seats from Democrats Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock -- in a bind. They both voted for the bill and touted their decisions in press releases, underscoring the importance of the legislation in Georgia, which is home to major military bases.

Trump Jams GOP as Defense Veto Threat Hangs Over Senate Runoffs

It’s not clear what the two Georgia Republicans would do if the Senate voted on whether to override the veto. Given the choice of standing with the president or breaking with him, they may opt for a third way: skipping the vote.

Loeffler and Perdue have tied themselves closely to Trump throughout their campaigns, going so far as to support the president’s unfounded claims that Georgia’s presidential election he lost was fraudulent. His approach has hit the GOP hard in Georgia, as he blasts the Republican governor and secretary of state for not taking actions that could tilt the vote in his favor.

Trump Jams GOP as Defense Veto Threat Hangs Over Senate Runoffs

Republicans are holding out hope that Trump backs down.

“I would discourage him from vetoing,” Senator John Barrasso, who serves as Republican conference chairman, told Fox News Sunday. Barrasso declined to say whether he’d vote to override. “It would be much better for the country for the president to sign it.”

‘Nothing We Can Do’

Senator Jim Inhofe, the Republican chairman of the powerful Senate Armed Services Committee, said he expects the Senate to override a veto should Trump block the bill.

“There’s nothing we can do” about repealing liability protection to tech companies, Inhofe said, referring to a measure Trump wants added to the legislation.

Trump has called for lawmakers to use the legislation to repeal so-called Section 230 liability protections for social media companies. He has grown enraged at the tech giants as they increasingly slap warnings and labels on his postings, such as his false and unfounded claims that he won the election.

Perdue and Loeffler have tread carefully. They issued a joint Dec. 11 statement that paid respect to Trump’s view but essentially defended the defense bill, saying that Georgia’s military installations put the state at “the forefront of our future defense needs.”

“President Trump is absolutely right that Section 230 for Big Tech needs to be addressed, and we are fighting to do that in separate legislation,” they said. “Although we disagree with the renaming of military bases, we believe local communities are best suited to make those decisions.”

The offices of Perdue and Loeffler didn’t respond to questions about how they’d vote if Trump vetos the bill. Perdue’s rival, Ossoff, supports the legislation as-is, as does Loeffler’s rival, Warnock.

National Security

Trump has sought to tie the issue to national security, though offered no evidence of that. Instead, he appears to be reviving and contorting a complaint that his falsehoods get flagged but propaganda statements from the Chinese state do not.

Trump has never had a veto overridden -- a rejection over the NDAA would issue his first such defeat with only weeks left in his presidency.

The veto override would have to occur before the new Congress convenes, otherwise the bill would have to be re-introduced and the process for passing it would have to start anew. Combat pay for troops serving overseas and other types of special pay would be on hold until authorized by the bill.

Congress passed the bill with enough support in both chambers to virtually guarantee a veto override under normal circumstances. But some Republicans -- including House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, a staunch Trump ally -- have said they would vote to sustain Trump’s veto even though they support the underlying legislation. It’s unclear how many others will.

In the Senate, Lindsey Graham, another Trump ally, said he would back Trump’s demand that Section 230 be repealed through the defense bill and would vote to sustain his veto. Others, including Senators Tom Cotton of Arkansas and Josh Hawley of Missouri, voted “no” on passage and indicated they would also vote to sustain a veto.

The House voted for the bill 335-78 earlier this month with 140 Republicans supporting the measure, while the Senate passed the bill 84-13. It would need a 287-vote super-majority in the House to override a veto, and as many as 67 senators, though super-majorities depend on how many members are present, so the numbers could lower if fewer lawmakers are there.

“It sort of depends on who shows up,” Representative Mike Gallagher, a Republican from Wisconsin, told Bloomberg Radio. Gallagher said he believes they have enough votes to override. “The most immediate thing we can do, that we can control, is to pass the National Defense Authorization Act -- potentially overriding the president’s veto if that’s what we need to do.”

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, a top Democrat, told reporters earlier this month that he believed there would be enough votes to block a Trump veto.

“I think we can override a veto if in fact he vetoes,” he said. “I hope he does not.”

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

BQ Install

Bloomberg Quint

Add BloombergQuint App to Home screen.