US House votes to override Trump veto of defence bill

Republican legislators join Democrats to override a Trump veto in a rare bipartisan rebuke of the president.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi had called Trump’s veto 'an act of staggering recklessness' [File: Ken Cedeno/Reuters]

The United States House of Representatives has voted to override President Donald Trump’s veto of legislation setting the US military’s annual budget.

The vote on Monday was 322 to 87, with more than the required two-thirds of members of the House voting to override Trump’s veto, as 109 Republicans rebuffed their president for the first time in the four years of his presidency.

The measure now moves to the Republican-led Senate, which is scheduled to vote on the override on Tuesday. If the Senate joins the House in overriding Trump’s veto by more than a two-thirds majority, the bill would become law without Trump’s signature.

The vote took place after the Democrat-controlled House approved a separate proposal to raise COVID-19 relief payments to be sent to US citizens to $2,000.

Congress had previously approved $600 direct payments to individuals as part of a $900bn COVID-19 relief bill passed last week. In signing the COVID-19 relief bill on Sunday, Trump said he wanted to see more direct relief given to struggling Americans.

The Democrat-controlled House vote of 275 to 134 on direct payments is largely symbolic, with Congress nearing the end of its session and a new Congress and President-elect Joe Biden expected to begin debating a new round of COVID-19 relief legislation early next year.

Raising the stimulus cheques to $2,000 from $600 would cost an additional $464bn, the Congress’s Joint Committee on Taxation estimated.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said, “Republicans have a choice: Vote for this legislation or vote to deny the American people” the aid she said they need to deal with the economic fallout of the coronavirus pandemic.

After the vote in the House, Democratic senators said they plan to force a vote in the Senate on increasing stimulus cheques to $2,000 per person when the Senate meets to override Trump’s veto of the defence bill on Tuesday.

“There’s strong support for these $2,000 emergency checks from every corner of the country. Leader McConnell ought to make sure Senate Republicans do not stand in the way of helping to meet the needs of American workers and families who are crying out for help,” Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer said.

Bipartisan backing for defence bill

A broad bipartisan majority in both the House and Senate had backed the defence bill, which authorises $740bn in defence funding, provides pay raises for US troops and their families. Trump vetoed it on December 23.

If the Senate were to join the House in rejecting the president’s veto, it would be both a measure of his waning influence in Congress and the substantive disagreement legislators have with his rationale for opposing the bill.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican, had urged Trump not to veto the bill, noting its strong bipartisan support in the Congress.

The Republican-led Senate voted 84 to 13 to approve the bill after it passed the Democratic-controlled House by a vote of 335 to 78 on December 8 – both margins greater than the two-thirds needed to override the presidential veto.

Trump had objected to provisions in the annual defence policy bill that will require his administration to report to Congress on potential risks to US national security of troop withdrawals Trump has announced in Afghanistan, South Korea and Germany.

The president opposes a provision that would require the Pentagon to change the names of military bases named for former Confederate soldiers who fought in the US Civil War.

“I have been clear in my opposition to politically motivated attempts like this to wash away history and to dishonour the immense progress our country has fought for in realizing our founding principles,” Trump wrote in his veto message to the US House.

In addition, the president was unhappy that Congress did not repeal Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996, which shields social media companies from liability for content posted on their platforms by users.

“Your failure to terminate the very dangerous national security risk of Section 230 will make our intelligence virtually impossible to conduct without everyone knowing what we are doing at every step,” Trump had said.

During the debate on the floor of the House on Monday, Representative Adam Smith said that repealing Section 230 was unrelated to the legislation.

“The president vetoed this because of something that isn’t in the bill, and was never going to be in the bill, something totally unrelated to national security, and something that we were not going to do in any event,” said Smith, the Democrat chairman of the House Armed Service Committee, which wrote the bill.

“There is literally no reason to veto this bill for the reasons that the President did,” Smith said.

Representative Mac Thornberry, the top Republican on the House Armed Services Committee, cited key provisions in the bill that provide “new tools” to address “a newly aggressive China,” US security assistance to Israel and new defences against computer intrusions like the recently exposed “devastating cyber attack by Russia”.

Source: Al Jazeera