Mitch McConnell urges Senate to pass the $741 billion defense bill Trump has vowed to veto

By John Haltiwanger

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is urging the Senate to pass a roughly $741 billion defense bill that President Donald Trump has vowed to veto.

"This [National Defense Authorization Act] will unlock more than $740 billion for the training, tools and cutting-edge equipment that our service members and civilian employees need to defend American lives and American interests,″ McConnell said during a Senate speech on Thursday. "It will give our troops the 3% pay raise they deserve. It'll keep our forces ready to deter China and stand strong in the Indo-Pacific."

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

Still, the bill passed with a veto-proof majority in the House, with 140 Republicans breaking from Trump to join Democrats in supporting the legislation. Lawmakers from both parties have described the legislation as crucial to national security. 

The National Defense Authorization Act or NDAA, which authorizes appropriations for the Defense Department and defense-related activities at other federal agencies, has passed without much fanfare on an annual basis for nearly 60 years. 

But Trump has pledged to veto the defense bill because it does not include a repeal of Section 230, an aspect of the Communications Decency Act providing liability to social media companies regarding content posted by third parties on their platforms.

Trump and other conservatives have frequently accused social media giants like Twitter and Facebook of bias against the political right. But the issue is unrelated to national defense and the overarching aim of the NDAA, and Trump's demands regarding Section 230 have baffled some Republicans in the conversation over the defense bill. 

"There's no way we would have a defense authorization bill with that language in it," Senate Armed Services Chair Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma, who's generally an ally of Trump's, told Politico on Monday. "There's no question about it. And so obviously, I would have to do what I could to override a veto."

Trump also wants lawmakers to scrap a provision of the bill that permits the renaming of military bases commemorating Confederate leaders.

Republicans, who have repeatedly bowed to pressure from the president on other matters and legislation, are largely moving forward in support of the bill despite Trump's demands. 

The legislation "does not contain every policy that either side would like to pass," McConnell said, adding that a "huge number of crucial policies are included and a lot of bad ideas were kept out."

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer expressed confidence that "we can override" a Trump veto, but added that he hopes the president does not take that route. 

Trump has issued eight vetoes during his presidency and none have been overturned.