US Senate to consider override of Trump defence bill veto

If as expected the Senate follows the US House in vote, it would be first veto override of Trump’s presidency.

Senate Republican leaders find themselves in an unfamiliar position: publicly bucking President Trump [File: Nicholas Kamm/Pool via AP]

The US Senate is expected to vote in the coming days on whether to override President Donald Trump’s veto of an annual defence policy bill, potentially dealing Trump his first veto override and putting Republicans in the unfamiliar position of publicly bucking the president.

Senate Republicans are in a political bind after a bipartisan majority in the House of Representatives approved an increase in stimulus cheques sought by President Donald Trump to $2,000 per US citizen.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on Tuesday was unable to get quick consent in the Senate to move forward with a veto override as Democrats sought to pressure Republicans to add another $484 bn in direct stimulus payments to US citizens. Acknowledging “the president would like further direct financial support for American households”, McConnell declined to allow a Senate vote on increasing COVID-19 relief cheques to $2,000 per person. Instead, McConnell said he would move to force a vote on the defence bill by the end of the week.

“For the brave men and women of the United States Armed Forces, failure is simply not an option. So, when it’s our turn in Congress to have their backs failure is not an option either,” McConnell said.

Senator Bernie Sanders, an independent who has championed higher direct payments to Americans, on Tuesday followed through on a threat to block the Senate from moving quickly to override Trump’s veto.

“The working class of this country today faces more economic desperation than any time since the Great Depression of the 1930s and working families need help now. Not next year. But right now,” Sanders said.

The US House voted 322-87, including 109 Republicans, to override the veto Monday – easily clearing the two-thirds vote threshold needed.  The bill originally passed the Senate 84-13 earlier this month, well above the 67 votes needed for an override.

The National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) includes a 3 percent pay raise for US troops and authorizes more than $740bn for military programs and construction.

But Trump, who vetoed the bill last week, complained about various provisions in the bill, including changing the names of military bases that honour Confederate leaders. He also is upset that the bill does not include language that would soften protections of social media companies, something that authors of the legislation say is not relevant to a defence policy bill.

In his veto message, Trump said the bill “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.”

On Tuesday, following the House override vote, Trump slammed “weak and tired Republican ‘leadership’” and demanded, “Negotiate a better Bill, or get better leaders, NOW! Senate should not approve NDAA until fixed!!!”

Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman James Inhofe argued that the bill, which has been passed without controversy every year since 1961, must become law.

“The NDAA has become law every year for 59 years straight because it’s absolutely vital to our national security and our troops,” Inhofe said. “This year must not be an exception.”

The Senate can not vote on the NDAA if there is a dissenting member, under the unanimous consent rules.

Senate Republican leaders have been silent on where they stand on Trump’s $2,000 direct payment idea. He surprised Congress with it last week and delayed signing a pandemic relief bill while complaining about the “measly” $600 payment included in the bill.

The House voted to increase the direct payments Monday, with overwhelming support from Democrats.

It is unclear whether Senate Republicans will take up the issue as many conservatives oppose larger payments, despite Trump’s support for the idea, arguing that they will add hundreds of billions of dollars to the federal government’s pandemic relief costs.

Trump’s push for the $2,000 payments has put him at odds with many congressional Republicans, something that has not happened often during his presidency. In the House, 130 Republicans voted against the increase on Monday and Senate Republican leaders have not responded to Trump’s zeal for the idea.

On Tuesday, Trump again pressured Senate Republicans to pass the increased payments, suggesting their opposition is a “death wish” and their political futures are at stake if they do not.

Some Senate Republicans, however, have expressed support for the increase, including Florida Senator Marco Rubio, Missouri Senator Josh Hawley, and Georgia Senators David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler, who are up for election next week in two runoffs that will determine which party controls the Senate next year.

The two Georgia Republicans had earlier opposed doling out more federal funds when Congress debated and passed a COVID-19 relief package signed by the president on Sunday that provides for $600 cheques.

But now, facing a potentially difficult vote in the Senate in which they would have to vote against the politically popular idea of increase cheques, Loeffler and Purdue announced on Twitter their support for the idea.


Democratic leader Senator Chuck Schumer said the measure increasing the stimulus cheques from $600 to $2,000 would pass the Senate if McConnell allowed it to come to a vote.

“We should not adjourn until the Senate holds a vote on both measures, the NDAA veto override and the house bill to provide $2,000 checks for the American people,” Schumer said.

“The solution is a simple one, put both bills up, or a simple up or down vote, and then let the chips fall where they may,” Schumer said.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies