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Trump vetoes $740B NDAA defense bill, calls it ‘gift to China and Russia’

President Donald J. Trump. (Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead)
December 23, 2020

President Donald Trump vetoed the annual defense bill on Wednesday after repeated vows due to Congress’ inaction on two issues – military base renaming and social media protections – that he demanded.

Trump announced his veto in a letter to the House of Representatives, saying, “Unfortunately, the Act fails to include critical national security measures, includes provisions that fail to respect our veterans and our military’s history, and contradicts efforts by my Administration to put America first in our national security and foreign policy actions.  It is a ‘gift’ to China and Russia.”

A Senate vote of 84-13 approved the $740 billion bill on Dec. 11, exceeding the two-thirds majority needed to override a veto. The vote follows the House of Representatives’ 335-78 vote – also a veto-proof majority – on Dec. 8.

Trump repeatedly said he would veto the defense bill 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.

Section 230 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.

“The Act fails even to make any meaningful changes to Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, despite bipartisan calls for repealing that provision. Section 230 facilitates the spread of foreign disinformation online, which is a serious threat to our national security and election integrity. It must be repealed,” Trump said in Wednesday’s veto.

The bill also contains a provision requiring the Department of Defense rename military bases named for Confederate figures – another provision that has drawn Trump’s ire.

On June 10, Trump had tweeted, “It has been suggested that we should rename as many as 10 of our Legendary Military Bases, such as Fort Bragg in North Carolina, Fort Hood in Texas, Fort Benning in Georgia, etc. These Monumental and very Powerful Bases have become part of a Great American Heritage, and a history of Winning, Victory, and Freedom,” Trump said.

“The United States of America trained and deployed our HEROES on these Hallowed Grounds, and won two World Wars. Therefore, my Administration will not even consider the renaming of these Magnificent and Fabled Military Installations,” he added. “Our history as the Greatest Nation in the World will not be tampered with. Respect our Military!”

In Wednesday’s veto, Trump said, “I have been clear in my opposition to politically motivated attempts like this to wash away history and to dishonor the immense progress our country has fought for in realizing our founding principles.”

Trump also criticized the bill for language that impedes his plan to withdraw U.S. troops from overseas, and his use of military construction funds for the southern U.S. border wall.

“For all of these reasons, I cannot support this bill. My Administration has taken strong actions to help keep our Nation safe and support our service members. I will not approve this bill, which would put the interests of the Washington, D.C. establishment over those of the American people,” Trump’s veto said. “It is my duty to return H.R. 6395 to the House of Representatives without my approval.”

The annual defense bill is considered a “must-pass” bill and has never failed to pass in 59 consecutive years, according to Washington Examiner.

Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee Rep. Adam Smith criticized Trump’s decision to veto and vowed to pursue a veto override.

“By choosing to veto the NDAA, President Trump has made it clear that does not care about the needs of our military personnel and their families. If the FY21 NDAA does not become law, more than 100,000 federal employees will be deprived of the paid parental leave benefits they deserve, necessary military construction projects will not move forward on schedule, and our service members who are in harm’s way defending our country’s principles will not have access to the hazard pay they are owed,” Smith said in a statement provided to American Military News.

“The FY21 NDAA passed with overwhelming, veto-proof support in both the House and Senate, and I remain confident that Congress will override this harmful veto. While the President may not care about our service members and their families, Congress still places an immense value on their service and sacrifice,” Smith added.