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HASC Chair Rep. Smith slams Trump NDAA defense bill veto threat: ‘Everything to do with your ego, nothing with defense’

President Trump delivering the State of the Union address on Feb. 4, 2020. (White House/Released)
December 03, 2020

House Armed Services Chairman Rep. Adam Smith (D-WA) on Wednesday criticized President Donald Trump’s threat to veto the approximately $740 billion National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for 2021 unless it includes provisions to repeal Section 230 of the 1996 Communications Decency Act, which codifies immunities for websites and web services to post or remove content.

Smith 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 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.

In a joint statement provided to American Military News also on Wednesday, Smith and Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-TX), the ranking Republican on the House Armed Services Committee said, “We have reached bicameral agreement on the FY21 NDAA, which authorizes funding for the Department of Defense and the national security programs of the Department of Energy. As is the case every year, this agreement is the product of months of hard-fought negotiations. This year we have toiled through almost 2,200 provisions to reach compromise on important issues affecting our national security and our military. Nearly half of the Members of the House have contributed provisions to this measure.”

Smith and Thornberry emphasized the NDAA’s measures to improve military infrastructure, provide for new tools to deter China and Russia, make the Pentagon more efficient and innovative, improve cybersecurity and add security measures to military bases in the wake of the 2019 Pensacola Navy base shooting, among other measures.

Smith and Thornberry said, “For 59 straight years, the NDAA has passed because Members of Congress and Presidents of both parties have set aside their own policy objectives and partisan preferences and put the needs of our military personnel and America’s security first. The time has come to do that again.”

Some Republicans have also signaled their intent to break with Trump over his veto threat.

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

Responding to Kinzinger, Federalist editor Mollie Hemingway tweeted, “This interventionist/anti-Trumpist guy who the media utterly adores is saying conservatives’ massive problems with Big Tech power and censorship are about nothing other than … Trump? Wonder what his solution for the problem is.”

Kinzinger replied, “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.”

In comments reported by the Washington Examiner, Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK), the Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman, said he agrees with Trump’s opposition to Section 230, but feels changes to Section 230 should be kept out of the NDAA negotiations.

“I feel just as passionate about that as he does,” Inhofe said. “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.

According to the Washington Examiner, several Republicans voiced their support for changing Section 230, but feel the work should be done in the Senate Commerce Committee, as opposed to action on an Armed Services Committee action.

Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) told the Washington Examiner that the Commerce Committee is “probably a more appropriate place to do it,” adding, “Our military deserve to have authorization.”

A senior Democratic aide for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) told the Washington Examiner that she is ready to bring the NDAA to a vote. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer also reportedly said he is aiming to complete House business for the year by Dec. 11.

Both a House and Senate version of the NDAA has significant bipartisan support. The House version of the bill passed by a vote of 295-125 and the Senate version passed by a vote of 86-14, indicating veto-proof majority support in both houses.

Waiting until a new session of Congress is in place in January would create a major setback to passing the NDAA, because the new session of Congress would forces lawmakers to start from the beginning on the defense spending measures.

Retired Army Lt. Gen. Tom Spoehr, the director of the Heritage Foundation’s Center for National Defense told the Washington Examiner the potential setback of the NDAA with a new congressional session is “Like an Etch A Sketch. Once this session of Congress expires, both of these versions of the NDAA that were passed by the House and the Senate go away, it has to be re-passed again.”