Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell at the Capitol in December.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell at the Capitol in December. Rod Lamkey/Pool via AP

Senate Joins House in Overriding Trump’s Veto of Defense Bill

Congress’ rejection of the veto—the first in Trump’s presidency—comes during his final days in office.

Senate lawmakers voted 81-13 on New Year's Day to override President Trump’s veto of the 2021 National Defense Authorization Act just days after the House did the same in a 322-87 vote in that chamber. It was the first time Congress has voted to override Trump’s veto of legislation. 

The Senate and House each passed the $740 billion defense policy bill with veto proof majorities earlier this month. Then Trump vetoed it on December 23, after threatening to do so for months. He opposed a provision that requires the Pentagon to rename military bases named for Confederate leaders, and demanded the repeal of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which is a liability shield for social media companies. He also said the bill was a “gift to China and Russia,” although he never specified what he meant by that.

“My administration has taken strong actions to help keep our nation safe and support our service members,” said Trump in a statement. “I will not approve this bill, which would put the interests of the Washington, D.C., establishment over those of the American people. It is my duty to return H.R. 6395 to the House of Representatives without my approval.” 

The NDAA contains several provisions for federal employees, such as making technical corrections to the paid parental leave policy from last year’s bill and waiving the normal annual cap for unused leave from year to year. Tony Reardon, national president of the National Treasury Employees Union, urged Congress to override the veto, which he said was a “setback for federal employees.” 

“During a pandemic and in the middle of the holidays, the commander-in-chief is defunding the military and denying our service members their duly-earned pay,” Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va., chairman of the House Oversight and Reform’s Government Operations subcommittee, tweeted on December 23. “This veto is foolish and disgraceful and I look forward to overriding it.”

Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, retiring House Armed Services Committee ranking member, reiterated his support for the NDAA while speaking from the House floor on Monday evening. “I continue to support this bill as more than 80% of the House did just 20 days ago,” he said. “It's the exact same bill. Not a comma has changed.”

On Monday, 109 Republicans voted to override the veto and 66 voted against doing so. 

While the outcome in the Senate wasn’t certain earlier this week, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and other influential Republicans had expressed continued support for the Defense bill following Trump’s veto. Sen. Jim Inhofe. R-Okla., chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said upon the news of the veto, that the NDAA has become a law for the last 59 years and “this year must not be an exception,” while not mentioning the veto explicitly.

“This NDAA cements all the remarkable gains our military has made thanks to President Trump’s leadership and sends a strong message of support to our service members and their families,” he said. “I hope all of my colleagues in Congress will join me in making sure our troops have the resources and equipment they need to defend this nation.” He also said that Congress could tackle Section 230 in “another legislative vehicle.” 

According to the House’s historical archives, presidents have vetoed more than 2,500 bills, but Congress has overridden them less than 5% of the time. 

Erich Wagner contributed to this report.