President Trump to veto national defence bill, White House says

Broad support in Congress for bill containing language that would impose limits on US troop withdrawals from overseas.

White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany told a news conference at the White House that President Trump plans to veto the annual defence bill [Leah Millis/Reuters]

United States President Donald Trump plans to veto national defence legislation passed overwhelmingly by Congress last week, White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany said on Tuesday.

There is broad bipartisan support in Congress for the annual defence bill, which would authorise a $740bn annual budget for the fiscal year 2021 and enact a slew of new US military policies.

“I don’t have a timeline for you on that but he does plan to veto it,” McEnany told reporters at a White House news conference.

Trump objects to language in the National Defense Authorization Act that would constrain his ability to withdraw US troops from Afghanistan, South Korea and Germany, McEnany said.

The president also opposes a provision sponsored by Senator Elizabeth Warren 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 should say, problems with the NDAA go beyond just the absence of Section 230 repeal and beyond the inclusion of the Warren amendment,” McEnany said.

“One of the provisions of concern is true provisions about troop withdraw deployment in Afghanistan South Korea in Germany,” she said.

White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany holds a news briefing at the White House in Washington on December 15, 2020 [Leah Millis/Reuters]

The Pentagon said last month the number of US troops in Afghanistan would decrease from 4,500 to 2,500 before the end of Trump’s term.

The bill requires the Trump administration to submit a detailed report to Congress before withdrawing troops as agreed with the Taliban and requires submission of its February 29 peace agreement with the Taliban to Congress for review and oversight.

The incoming Biden administration must also report back on the Taliban’s compliance with the deal, the bill stipulates.

Trump has until December 23 to return the bill to Congress with an explanation of his rationale for the veto.

Some Trump advisers, both in and out of the White House, have privately counseled Trump not to veto the bill, the Reuters news service reported, citing an unnamed person familiar with the situation.

The president would have little to gain politically and would risk being overridden by Congress, the person said.

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 last week – both margins greater than the two-thirds need to override a veto.

It remains to be seen, however, whether that level support would hold up in the face of a Trump veto. A number of House Republicans have said that, while they voted for the bill initially, they would not vote to overturn a Trump veto.

Vetoing the bill likely would force members of Congress to return to Washington in between the upcoming Christmas and New Year’s holidays in order to re-pass the bill before January 3.

The president is unhappy that Congress did not include a repeal of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996 which shields social media companies from liability for content posted on their platforms by users.

Trump has accused Twitter and Facebook of political bias for censoring right-wing groups and tagging some of his posts to show that the content is disputed.

McEnany made no mention of Trump’s political fights but instead framed the president’s opposition as related to alleged disinformation from China about its treatment of Muslim Uighurs in Xinjiang and Chinese denials the coronavirus pandemic originated in Wuhan.

“So by not including a Section 230 repeal, what you’re in effect allowing Twitter to continue to not censor Chinese propaganda,” McEnany said, citing recent tweets by the Chinese embassy in the United States.

A December 10 tweet by the Chinese embassy falsely claimed authorities in Xinjiang province allow citizens to enjoy the freedom of religion, McEnany asserted.

“That clearly is not the case. The leaders have been absolutely tortured in that province,” she said.

Human Rights Watch had issued a report on December 9 documenting China’s use of a big-data programme in Xinjiang to “arbitrarily” select Muslims for detention for wearing a veil, studying the Quran or going on the Hajj pilgrimage.

Another embassy tweet claimed the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 did not originate in China’s Wuhan province. “That obviously is Chinese disinformation,” McEnany said.

Congressional leaders have said they will not include the repeal of Section 230 Trump wants in the defence bill.

While there is broad sentiment in Congress the 1996 communications law should be revisited, an outright repeal of Section 230 would be controversial and would disrupt the business models of US social media companies.

Further, because changes to US communications law are not related to national defence and the military, attempts to add it to the bill would likely fail under congressional rules requiring amendments to be germane.

Congress is poised to pass a separate $1.4 trillion government omnibus spending bill, which includes funding for the Defense Department and US military operations, which McEnany signalled Trump would sign.

Trump “wants to make every effort to protect our military men and women, and will prioritise military funding in the big omnibus bill,” McEnany said.

Source: Al Jazeera