Image: USS Theodore Roosevelt. Source: National Archives
By Patricia Zengerle
WASHINGTON (Reuters) -The U.S. Congress will return to Washington during its Christmas holiday break if necessary to override President Donald Trump’s threatened veto of a $740 billion defense bill, lawmakers said on Monday, with one senior Republican saying Trump’s stance risked “punishing” the troops.
Trump last week repeatedly vowed to veto the annual National Defense Authorization Act, or NDAA, if it does not repeal a law that protects companies like Alphabet Inc’s Google, Twitter Inc and Facebook Inc from liability for what appears on their platforms.
His threats angered lawmakers, including some of Trump’s fellow Republicans, who said the tech measure has nothing to do with defense and that Trump’s concerns – voiced only after his defeat in the Nov. 3 election – should not block major annual legislation that Congress has passed for 59 consecutive years.
“He did not raise the issue until the end of November, when we were literally almost a year into the (NDAA) process,” Representative Adam Smith, Democratic chairman of the House of Representatives Armed Services Committee, said on a conference call with reporters.
“There really are no other possibilities. If the president vetoes it, we will come back and vote to override,” Smith said. He said he believed the legislation would receive the two-thirds majorities needed in the House and Senate to overcome a Trump veto.
Trump has issued eight vetoes during his four years as president. All of them were sustained.
Representative Mac Thornberry, the House panel’s top Republican, said failure to pass the NDAA would threaten policy provisions in the bill intended to combat threats from China and Russia, and harm troops more directly by cutting their pay and delaying construction of new housing.
“I’m hopeful that a strong vote can persuade the White House that there’s a better approach to that issue so you’re not punishing the troops for something that is totally unrelated,” Thornberry told reporters on a separate conference call.
The Democratic-led House is due to vote on the NDAA on Tuesday. If it passes, as expected, it would go to the Republican-majority Senate, where it is also expected to pass, sending it to the White House for Trump to sign or veto.
The NDAA includes a provision that would strip the names of Confederate generals from military facilities. Trump has also threatened a veto over this provision, although his focus more recently has been on the tech measure.
As they seek to overturn his defeat in the Nov. 3 presidential election, Trump and some Republican allies have been insisting tech companies are biased against conservatives and should be punished.
Tech firms deny having any such slant.
Trump’s fellow Republicans, who rarely break from him on policy matters, have come out against the veto threat, saying the tech issue may need to be addressed but it has nothing to do with the military.
Because the NDAA is one of the few major bills to pass every year, lawmakers often use it as a vehicle for policy measures that extend beyond the Pentagon.
However, this year’s NDAA has been in the works for months and is at a point where it cannot be amended.
Reporting by Patricia Zengerle; editing by Jonathan Oatis.