U.S. President Donald Trump on Wednesday vetoed a sweeping defense funding bill sent to him by Congress. He complained that it helps Russia and China and opposed provisions to rename military bases.
The bipartisan bill passed both chambers of Congress with sufficient majorities to allow lawmakers – in theory – to override the president’s disapproval.
The veto of the $740 billion measure to fund the military for fiscal 2021 came a day after the U.S. leader, with less than a month in office, questioned a separate $900 billion bill to relieve Covid-19 and overall funding for the government.
Trump criticized the annual National Defense Authorization Act for not addressing his request to end liability protections for social media companies known as Section 230, an issue unrelated to the U.S. Department of Defense.
He also opposed a provision in the NDAA to rename military bases that bear the names of generals from the secessionist, pro-slavery South in the 19th century U.S. Civil War.
And he opposed a provision that could hamper his decision to drastically reduce U.S. troop levels in Germany, Afghanistan and elsewhere.
The NDAA “fails to include critical national security measures, contains provisions that disrespect our veterans and our military’s history, and contradicts my administration’s efforts to put America first in our national security and foreign policy actions,” Trump said in a statement.
Without the amendments to Section 230, Trump said the NDAA “is a ‘gift’ to China and Russia.”
- ‘Recklessness’ –
House Democratic Speaker Nancy Pelosi called Trump’s veto “an act of recklessness that harms our troops, jeopardizes our security, and undermines the will of Congress.”
Both the House and Senate have set aside time next week to vote on the veto – which would be the first such snub by Congress in its nearly four years in office.
But with the omnibus funding bill, including general government funding and Covid relief, still up in the air, it wasn’t clear whether Trump would ditch both for concessions.
“I will not agree to this bill that puts the interests of the establishment in Washington, DC above those of the American people,” Trump said.
Trump has repeatedly called for the NDAA to include changes to Section 230, a part of U.S. communications law that protects social media giants like Facebook and Twitter from liability for content posted by their users.
Since the beginning of the year, Trump has been upset with social media for censoring his own posts or questioning their factuality, especially in the context of the coronavirus pandemic.
But Trump said amending Section 230 is a matter of national security.
“Your failure to end the very dangerous national security risk of Section 230 will make our intelligence virtually impossible without everyone knowing what we are doing at every step,” he said in the statement.
He called the move to change the bases’ names – which is widely supported in the Pentagon – “politically motivated,” making no mention of the legacy of racism and slavery the names bring.
The veto does not immediately choke off funding for the Pentagon, but if the NDAA is not passed soon, funding could be streamlined.
“The NDAA has become law every year for 59 years because it is absolutely vital to our national security and our troops,” said Republican Sen. Jim Inhofe.
“This year must be no exception. Our men and women who voluntarily wear the uniform should not be denied what they need – ever.”