Richmond Times-Dispatch Weekend

Senate overrides Trump defense veto, rejects $2K checks plan

Defense bill veto overridden as $2K aid checks rejected


The Senate on Friday voted to turn a $ 741 billion defense authorizat­ion bill into law over President Donald Trump’s objections, delivering the first successful veto override of his presidency in the waning days of his administra­tion.

The 81- 13 vote in the Senate, just days after the House also voted in overwhelmi­ng numbers to back the legislatio­n, was one of two rare rebukes of Trump on Friday from Republican lawmakers.

Ahead of the vote on rejecting the president’s veto, Senate Republican­s blocked a Trump- endorsed effort to increase the size of stimulus checks from $ 600 to $ 2,000.

The move on checks prompted an angry response from the president. “Pathetic!!!” Trump tweeted. “Now they want to give people ravaged by the China Virus $ 600, rather than the $ 2000 which they so desperatel­y need. Not fair, or smart!”

Trump’s last- minute push for larger pandemic relief checks had aligned him with Senate Democrats, who seized on the president’s support to advocate for the increased payments, at a total cost of $ 464 billion.

“The Senate can start off 2021 by really helping the American people,” said Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, D- N. Y. “We can start off 2021 by sending $ 2,000 checks to struggling American families to carry them through the darkest and final days of this pandemic.”

But Senate Majority Leader Mitch

McConnell, R- Ky., refused to bring the package passed by the House to the Senate floor, dismissing it as “socialism for rich people.”

For months, Trump’s objections to the defense bill cast a shadow over negotiatio­ns between the House and Senate over the measure, despite the fact that veto- proof, bipartisan majorities had voted in favor of earlier versions of the legislatio­n.

In particular, Sen. James Inhofe, R- Okla., chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, argued that lawmakers would have to excise provisions ordering the removal of Confederat­e names from bases in order to pass the bill. But by early December, Inhofe gave up his protest and on Friday he cheered the passage of the defense bill over Trump’s objections.

The strong bipartisan majorities supporting the defense bill in both chambers represente­d a significan­t rebuke of the president, as it contains several repudiatio­ns of his policies as commander in chief.

The bill contains new restrictio­ns on how much of the military’s constructi­on budget the president may move by emergency order — a direct response to Trump’s efforts to divert billions of the Pentagon’s dollars toward the border wall. It also limits the president’s ability to draw down troop levels in Germany, South Korea and Afghanista­n — a move Trump had planned over the objections of members of his own party.

In his veto statement last month, Trump included the measure’s restrictio­ns on troop deployment­s high on his list of grievances with the legislatio­n. He also objected to the bill’s mandate to the Pentagon to change the names of installati­ons honoring members of the Confederac­y. And he complained that the legislatio­n did not include a repeal of a completely unrelated law— Section 230 of the Communicat­ions Decency Act — that gives technology companies certain liability protection­s from content third parties post to their websites.

Both Democrats and Republican­s agree that Section 230 is flawed and in need of modificati­on, but most lawmakers have bristled at Trump’s efforts to repeal it as part of the defense bill.

In recent days, as the debate over stimulus checks threatened to hamper the defense bill override, McConnell sought to short- circuit the debate by tying any increased checks to a repeal of Section

230 and a commission to examine the 2020 election. Neither that measure nor the original House- passed bill was ever brought to a floor vote in the Senate. The combinatio­n, radioactiv­e to Democrats, quickly divided whatever support existed for the $ 2,000 checks proposal along political lines.

The defense bill also establishe­s newmechani­sms for countering China and cyberthrea­ts. It creates a Pacific Deterrence Initiative to bolster efforts to counter China in Asia, with an emphasis on containing Chinese maritime forces. That initiative is modeled on a measure Congress establishe­d in 2015 to counter Russian aggression. The legislatio­n also establishe­s a new cybersecur­ity director position.

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