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Congress finalizes NDAA defense bill – Trump again vows veto

Then-President Donald J. Trump. (Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead)
December 04, 2020

On Thursday, members of the U.S. Senate and House Armed Services Committees announced they had reached a final agreement for the 2021 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). President Donald Trump vowed again to veto the roughly $740 billion annual defense budget bill, just as he vowed throughout the bill’s negotiations.

In a Thursday statement, Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK), the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, and Sen. Jack Reed (D-RI), the ranking Democratic member said, “Just as Congress has done for the last 59 years in a row, we have reached a bipartisan, bicameral agreement on the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2021. This Conference Agreement fulfills our most important constitutional duty: to provide for the security of this nation and the men and women who lay their lives on the line to defend it.”

President Trump again said he veto the NDAA because it failed to include a provision to repeal Section 230 of the 1996 Communications Decency Act. Section 230 codifies immunities for websites and web services to post or remove content.

In a tweet directed at Inhofe, Trump tweeted, “Very sadly for our Nation, it looks like Senator @JimInhofe will not be putting the Section 230 termination clause into the Defense Bill. So bad for our National Security and Election Integrity. Last chance to ever get it done. I will VETO!”

Trump has voiced opposition to Section 230 amid increased content moderation by social media companies like Twitter and Facebook. Section 230 provides immunities for websites and services by protecting them from liability for content posted by their users. The law has come under fire as social media giants like Twitter and Facebook are accused of acting like publishers, demonstrating bias on the platforms, and infringing on users’ free speech.

On Thursday, the House Armed Services Committee (HASC) released its conference report for the 2021 NDAA. The report describes $731.6 billion in discretionary topline spending for military purposes and another $8.9 billion in national defense authorizations outside of HASC jurisdiction. In addition to providing funds for military equipment like planes, ships and tanks, the NDAA is also set to include election security and coronavirus-related spending provisions, as well as a three percent pay raise for U.S. troops. The HASC conference report provides no mention of Section 230 repeal or reform.

The NDAA is expected to be brought forth for a floor vote in the House next week.

On Wednesday, House Armed Services Committee Chairman Rep. Adam Smith (D-WA) had criticized Trump’s earlier demand to tie Section 230 changes to the NDAA. He tweeted, “To be clear, Mr. President, Section 230 repeal wasn’t included in the House OR Senate version of the NDAA. You’re mad at Twitter. We all know it. You’re willing to veto the defense bill over something that has everything to do with your ego, and nothing to do with defense.”

Trump’s veto threat has caused some splits among Republican lawmakers, with some signaling they plan to override Trump’s veto, while others said they backed Trump’s conditions to the 2021 NDAA.

Addressing Trump’s concerns about Section 230, Inhofe said, “I feel just as passionate about that as he does. The only difference of opinion that we have is, I don’t want it on this bill … because the Democrats will not appoint conferees” to draft a compromise.

On Wednesday, Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-IL), who is also a member of the Air National Guard, tweeted, “I will vote to override. Because it’s really not about you.”

Responding to criticism of his position in a later tweet, said, “Uh no. It’s about deep sixing the NDAA (which is about the military and has been in conference for months) with something totally unrelated that has not been debated or thought through. This is governing.”

On Friday, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) backed Trump’s Section 230 conditions in a series of tweets.

“I support President @realDonaldTrump’s insistence Section 230 repeal be part of the defense authorization bill. Big Tech is the only industry in America that cannot be sued for their business practices and are not meaningfully regulated. This must come to an end.”

Graham added, “It is our best chance to change course while we still can. I take a back seat to no one when it comes to supporting our nation’s military. However, Section 230 is allowing America to be fundamentally changed as it relates to the flow of information. We have a Defense Department to protect our liberty, but our liberty is at risk if we don’t change Section 230.”