The last bit of genuine suspense for the 116th Congress is whether Congress will override Donald Trump’s veto for the first time over this year’s National Defense Authorization Act. Passage of the annual defense policy measure, which authorizes $740 billion this year, is one of the rare bipartisan rituals remaining in Washington — it has been executed every year since 1961. Both Houses passed the 2020 NDAA by veto-proof margins (335-78 in the House, 84-13 in the Senate). Some Republicans who voted for it have indicated they won’t support an override, which would be the first of the Trump presidency.
Trump’s beef with the bill is twofold: he opposes a provision mandating that federal military installations bearing the names of Confederate military leaders be renamed, and he has unsuccessfully demanded that it include a non-germane amendment removing legal protections for social media platforms against suits over third-party content they publish or refuse to publish. In other words, the allegedly pro-military Trump was willing to veto a defense bill (which among other things includes military pay raises) over one far-right cause and one personal grudge. It was the ninth veto of his presidency, and could become his first veto to be overriden.
Despite Republican defections (40 House Republicans voted against the bill to begin with), the House easily passed an override motion by a 322-87 margin on Monday. The switches were explained by The Hill:
In the end, 109 Republicans broke with Trump to support the bill. Sixty-six Republicans voted against the bill Monday, compared with 40 who voted against it earlier this month.
But several Democrats also switched their votes, with 20 opposing the bill Monday, compared with 37 previously.
So progressive Democrats who weren’t about to sustain a Trump veto helped counter pro-Trump Republican defections.
A more intriguing vote will occur in the Senate, since Majority Leader Mitch McConnell will have to initiate the override attempt and overcome the sure opposition of Trumpy Republicans like Josh Hawley and national security heretics like Rand Paul. He has already threatened to slow down Senate consideration of an override with procedural objections. (The earliest it could gain a vote is December 29, and it could still be considered as late as January 2.) The possibility of a Trump-led Republican rebellion is best illustrated by career defense hawk Lindsey Graham’s indications he won’t support an override.
It’s fitting that a Republican Party increasingly dominated by the 45th president will end one Congress with a litmus test vote on fidelity to Trump, and then begin the next one on January 6 with a likely vote to overrule the Electoral College count confirming Joe Biden’s 2020 victory.