Trump's 'Sneak Attack' on Section 230 Likely to Fail As Politicians Suggest a Veto Would Be Overturned

President Donald Trump's threats to veto an annual defense bill unless Congress ends legal protections for "big tech" platforms is likely to fail, and politicians have already suggested they would seek to override the decision if necessary.

After months spent urging the repeal of a provision known as Section 230, which at its core shields websites and social networks from being held liable for most content that is uploaded by users, the president tried a different tactic this week by attempting to force its termination as part of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).

When the final draft of the NDAA surfaced on Thursday, it quickly became clear that it did not include a repeal of the law, a provision of the Communications Decency Act of 1996, prompting a flurry of fresh fury-tweets from Trump about the decision.

"Very sadly for our Nation, it looks like Senator Jim Inhofe will not be putting Section 230 termination clause into the Defense Bill. So bad for our National Security and Election Integrity. Last chance to ever get it done. I will VETO!" he wrote.

Sen. Inhofe, the Senate Armed Services Committee chairman, said while speaking to reporters that Section 230 has "nothing to do with the military" and it was "not a part of the bill," despite his own belief that the provision needed to be changed.

Despite the president's bluster, some Republican lawmakers are standing in opposition to the president, saying they would overturn any veto of the military funding.

"I will vote to override. Because it's really not about you," Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-IL) tweeted on December 2. Rep. Paul Mitchell (R-MI) tweeted on Thursday he believes NDAA is "too critical to our nation to suddenly bend to demands to hastily address Sec. 230" and said "we must override if that is the route Trump wishes to go."

On the other side of the political divide, California Democrat Rep. Ted Lieu tweeted there were now two possible paths that a presidential veto could lead down.

"Congress will override Trump's veto. Or we wait until January and reintroduce the same NDAA for [Joe] Biden's signature. In either case, Donald Trump is irrelevant," he said.

One of two things is going to happen. Congress will override Trump’s veto. Or we wait until January and reintroduce the same NDAA for Biden’s signature.

In either case, @realDonaldTrump is irrelevant.

— Ted Lieu (@tedlieu) December 4, 2020

The president's crusade against Section 230 gained traction in May as Twitter started to place flags and warning notices over his posts. Trump said the social media protections should be revoked as the sites were too powerful and censoring conservatives.

Under Section 230, platforms acting in "good faith" can moderate content regardless of whether it's "constitutionally protected." And so Trump's argument shifted last month as he suggested the law should be "terminated" on national security grounds.

Evan Greer, deputy director of the digital rights campaigning organization Fight for the Future, told Newsweek that U.S. lawmakers have been "right to buck Trump's obsessive and illogical attempt to shove Section 230 changes into the NDAA."

"Policy changes that affect free expression online should never be rammed through in secretive backroom deals, they should be done in the open through the democratic process. At this point it doesn't seem like there is any chance of him succeeding in this sneak attack on 230. Guess he just really likes losing," Greer added.

Greer told Newsweek there was a "zero chance" of a repeal taking place before Trump's term in office comes to an end, adding: "It seems almost certain that if Trump actually follows through and vetoes this then it will just pass after he is out."

Until Trump, the NDAA had been passed via bipartisan lawmakers in Congress for 59 years, providing key funds for military authorities. The 2021 proposal, which supports $740.5 billion in total, includes a 3 percent pay rise for military personnel.

While the president has power to refuse or approve a bill, the veto can be overridden by a two-thirds vote in both the Senate and the House. If that takes place, then the bill becomes law despite the president's objections, the Senate website says.

"It is pretty clear that Donald Trump is trying to exact revenge in the waning days of his presidency against companies that are engaged in activity protected by the First Amendment," defamation lawyer Ari Cohn told Newsweek today.

"Trump's thesis boils down to 'if it hurts me, it's dangerous.' Social media companies' moderation may be dangerous to Trump's ego, but nothing about it impacts national security or election integrity. At the end of the day, without Section 230, social media companies would still have the right to moderate... exactly how they have been.

"The only thing Trump is seeking when he pushes to repeal Section 230 is to hurt those who he disagrees with. It is a petty retribution scheme, and nothing more."

Ultimately, the Senate passed its version of the NDAA by a "veto-proof" 86-14 while it passed in the House by 295-125. The president alone does not have the ability to revoke Section 230, with only Congress able to clarify its legal status.

"To be clear, Mr. President, Section 230 repeal wasn't included in the House OR Senate version of the NDAA," Democrat Rep. Adam Smith, House Armed Services Committee chair, tweeted on Wednesday while reacting to the president's veto threat.

"You're mad at Twitter... you're willing to veto the defense bill over something that has everything to do with your ego, and nothing to do with defense."

While Trump's targeting of Section 230 is aimed at Facebook and Twitter, experts say revoking the law would have dire consequences for the internet as a whole, impacting community-focused websites and forums, including Wikipedia and Reddit.

In reality, a lack of legal protection would mean websites would have to aggressively monitor content being shared online—resulting in more censorship, not less.

"Ironically, if Trump succeeded in his quest to repeal Section 230, he'd likely be among the first to be unceremoniously booted from mainstream social media platforms, because none of them would want to shoulder the legal risk of hosting his inflammatory and false statements," Fight for the Future's Greer told Newsweek.

"Gutting 230 would lead to widespread Internet censorship of anything even remotely controversial, which would be devastating for the free flow of information."

"For example, platforms would be unlikely to host the viral videos of horrific police violence that have international uprisings for racial justice if they were constantly under the threat of lawsuits from law enforcement supporters.

"Messing with Section 230 isn't going to fix anything. We need policy action to rein in the... power of big tech companies, like enforcing existing anti-trust law, restoring net neutrality protections, and passing strong federal data privacy legislation."

This article was updated with comment from lawyer Ari Cohn.

Donald Trump
President Donald Trump arrives to deliver remarks on the stock market during an unscheduled appearance in the Brady Briefing Room of the White House in Washington, DC on November 24, 2020. President Donald Trump’s threat to veto an annual defense bill unless Congress ends legal protections for “big tech” platforms is likely to fail, an expert says. MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty