WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump on Wednesday made good on his promise to veto the annual military policy bill, setting up what could be the first veto override of his presidency after both chambers of Congress overwhelmingly approved the legislation.
In refusing to sign the bill, Trump cited a series of provisions, including one that would direct the military to strip the names of Confederate leaders from bases. He has also demanded that the bill include a provision that would repeal a legal shield for social media companies that he has tangled with, a significant legislative change that Republicans and Democrats alike have said is irrelevant to a bill that dictates military policy.
“My administration has taken strong actions to help keep our nation safe and support our service members,” Trump wrote in the veto notification. “I will not approve this bill, which would put the interests of the Washington, D.C., establishment over those of the American people.”
The House is expected to return Monday to vote on an override, although it is unclear how many Republicans intend to change their votes in deference to the president’s concerns. Should it pass, the Senate is expected to return Tuesday to begin considering the override.
The veto is the latest sign that Trump, in his last weeks in office, is ready to challenge lawmakers in his own party, forcing them to chose between fealty to him and loyalty to their congressional leaders and, for some, their ideals. He accused lawmakers of sending him legislation that “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.”
But in rejecting the measure, the president is also denying troops a pay raise, as well as blocking new benefits for tens of thousands of Vietnam-era veterans who were exposed to Agent Orange and a requirement that the Pentagon establish a plan to transition from using Chinese goods, particularly electronics. (Trump also insisted the bill “is a ‘gift’ to China and Russia,” though lawmakers have repeatedly rejected that characterization.)
“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,” said Rep. Adam Smith, D-Wash., chairperson of the House Armed Services Committee. “While the president may not care about our service members and their families, Congress still places an immense value on their service and sacrifice.”
Congress has successfully passed the legislation for 60 consecutive years, with the broad policy measure presenting a critical opportunity for members of both parties to demonstrate support for the military and national security priorities. While Trump has long made his veto intentions clear, members in both parties had publicly and privately implored him to back down.
Senate Republicans on Wednesday were already signaling their plans to deliver a rebuke to the president, something they have refrained from doing on several other veto override votes. Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., chairperson of the Senate Armed Services Committee and a Trump loyalist, said passage of the annual defense bill was sacrosanct.
“This year must not be an exception,” he wrote on Twitter after the veto announcement. “Our men and women who volunteer to wear the uniform shouldn’t be denied what they need — ever.”
“I hope all of my colleagues in Congress will join me in making sure our troops have the resources and equipment they need to defend this nation,” Inhofe added, noting that there could be future opportunities for lawmakers to separately address concerns about the legal shield for social media companies.