Trump Veto Threat Sparks Republican Revolt on Defense Bill in Big Win for Democrats

Despite President Donald Trump's threat to veto an annual must-pass military funding bill unless Congress abolishes legal protections for social media companies, Republicans proceeded unfazed on Wednesday and ignored the commander in chief's warning in order to strike a deal with Democrats.

Trump wrote in a Tuesday night tweet that he would "VETO" the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which Congress has approved for the past 59 years with overwhelming bipartisan support, if lawmakers didn't nix Section 230 of the 1996 Communications Decency Act that provides big tech companies like Facebook and Twitter with liability shields against content on their platforms.

Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) said he informed Trump they were moving forward—without the president's demand.

"Section 230 has nothing to do with the military," Inhofe told reporters at the Capitol. "I agree with his sentiment, we ought to do away with Section 230. But you can't do it in this bill. That's not a pertinent bill."

Asked what the president's response was, Inhofe said: "We just had an honest disagreement, very friendly."

Just hours after Trump's warning, the House and Senate reached an agreement on dueling versions of the NDAA Wednesday afternoon. The bipartisan legislation not only omits language about Section 230, but also includes a provision that previously prompted Trump to issue a separate veto threat: renaming military bases and other military assets which bear a Confederate name, an amendment spearheaded by Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.).

Renaming the 10 military bases named after Confederate Army officers threatened to ensnarl the more than $700 billion piece of legislation in partisan debate, as some Republicans said the matter should be addressed separately.

But a deal was struck to include the provision, ending uncertainty over how lawmakers would resolve the issue. At the same time, many Republicans stated their distaste for Trump's most recent threat to veto the crucial defense bill over big tech reform, a topic that is entirely unrelated to national security—despite the president's claims otherwise.

Jim Inhofe, Donald Trump
President Donald Trump (R) speaks on immigration issues while meeting with members of the U.S. Congress in the Cabinet Room of the White House June 20, 2018 in Washington, DC. Also pictured is Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK). Photo by Win McNamee/Getty

"I would hope he wouldn't follow through with that. I think what he's suggesting is how strongly he feels about section 230 and the need to reform it, and there's a lot of us that feel very strongly about it" Sen. Mike Rounds (R-S.D.) told Newsweek. "Personally, I would not want to see that as being a reason for not signing the NDAA. I think that would be a mistake."

White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany told reporters that Trump is "serious" about his veto.

Rep. Paul Mitchell (R-Mich.) said the mere suggestion from Trump "disgusted" him.

The push to rename military bases with Confederate names gained steam this summer amid a national reckoning on racial injustice reform.

The two chambers plan to pass the unified bill by the end of next week before likely leaving town for Christmas. If they muster enough support, Congress could force Trump's hands by delivering the NDAA with a veto-proof majority. The legislation has almost always been approved with enough votes to prevent a veto.

Still, some Republicans sided with Trump trying to push the issue of Section 230, which conservatives and GOP lawmakers have long asserted gives big tech companies the ability to unfairly censor their voices.

"I support him using all the leverage he can," said Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), a Trump confidant.

Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), one of Congress' fiercest critics of big tech corporations, said he supports Trump's move "100 percent" and that his demand is "absolutely reasonable."

"We don't legislate that much anymore, in case you haven't noticed," Hawley said with a laugh. "There's not a whole lot of legislation this body does, so if there's something that's going to move, I think it's absolutely appropriate."