WASHINGTON — In a rare break with President Donald Trump, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is urging passage of a wide-ranging defense policy bill that Trump has threatened to veto.
McConnell, R-Ky., said Thursday that it was important for Congress to continue a nearly 60-year streak of passing the National Defense Authorization Act, which affirms 3% pay raises for U.S. troops and authorizes billions in military programs and construction.
"This NDAA will unlock more than $740 billion for the training, tools and cutting-edge equipment that our service members and civilian employees need to defend American lives and American interests,'' McConnell said in a Senate speech ahead of an expected vote Thursday or Friday. "It will give our troops the 3% pay raise they deserve. It'll keep our forces ready to deter China and stand strong in the Indo-Pacific.''
The Democratic-controlled House overwhelmingly approved the defense bill on Tuesday, defying Trump's veto threat and setting up a possible showdown with the Republican president in the waning days of his administration.
A total of 140 Republicans joined 195 Democrats in backing the bill, which received support from more than 80% of the House — well above the two-thirds support required to override a potential veto.
Trump has vowed to veto the bill unless lawmakers clamp down on social media companies he claims were biased against him during the election. Trump also wants Congress to strip out a provision of the bill that allows renaming of military bases that now honor Confederate leaders.
McConnell did not address Trump's veto threat, but said the bill "will secure President Trump's major progress at modernizing our capabilities, our technologies and our strategic nuclear deterrent.''
The bill "does not contain every policy that either side would like to pass. But a huge number of crucial policies are included and a lot of bad ideas were kept out,'' McConnell said.
Trump tweeted Tuesday that he will veto "the very weak" defense bill unless it repeals Section 230, a part of the communications code that shields Twitter, Facebook and other tech giants from content liability.
The dispute over social media content — a battle cry of conservatives who say the social media giants treat them unfairly — interjects an unrelated but complicated issue into a bill that Congress takes pride in having passed unfailingly for nearly 60 years. It follows Trump's bid over the summer to sabotage the package with a veto threat over Confederate base names.
The veto threat — with just weeks left in his term — is Trump's latest attempt to bend political norms. From redirecting money intended for military bases to build the border wall with Mexico to installing acting nominees in administrative positions without Senate confirmation, Trump has chipped away at the legislative branch throughout his term.
If he does veto the defense bill, Congress could cut short its Christmas recess to hold override votes, senior House members said.
"I think we can override the veto, if in fact he vetoes," House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., said Tuesday. "I hope he does not veto. I hope he reconsiders. And I think he will get substantial pressure, advice (from Republicans) that, you know, you don't want to put the defense bill at risk."
Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney, a member of the House Republican leadership, urged Trump not to follow through on his threat but said that, if he does veto it, "we should override."
The defense measure guides Pentagon policy and cements decisions about troop levels, new weapons systems and military readiness, military personnel policy and other military goals. Many programs can only go into effect if the bill is approved, including military construction.