World, Americas

Defying Trump, US Senate passes defense spending bill

84-13 vote sends $731 billion bill to president's desk with veto-proof majorities in blow to outgoing president

Michael Hernandez  | 11.12.2020 - Update : 11.12.2020
 Defying Trump, US Senate passes defense spending bill


The US Senate bucked outgoing President Donald Trump during a rare Friday session, approving a defense spending bill the commander-in-chief has vowed to veto. 

The 84-13 vote now sends the gargantuan $731 billion bill to the president's desk. It cleared the House of Representatives on Tuesday, and in both chambers has secured a veto-proof majority.

The president could still exercise his veto powers, but that would almost certainly set up an embarrassing defeat in the waning days of his presidency.

Trump, now in his lameduck period, has vowed to veto the bill because it contains certain provisions he has voiced disapproval of while lacking others he has demanded. But a large chunk of his Republican partisans in both chambers bucked his threats in voting for the bill.

Trump has lambasted a requirement within the bill that the Defense Department rename military installations that bear the name of Confederate generals. The confederacy was a separatist movement that fought against the US in the mid-1800s to maintain the right to own Black people as slaves. 

The bases, as well as monuments honoring Confederates, became a flashpoint of public protests following the police-involved killings of Black men, including George Floyd in May.

Trump has also threatened a veto if the bill does not include a provision repealing a statute known as Section 230 that shields social media companies from legal action over content posted by their users.

Trump and his Republican allies have sought to focus on Section 230 in their criticism of what they say are efforts by social media companies to censor conservative viewpoints. 

In May, Trump issued an executive order calling for new regulations to be imposed on the legal protections, which are part of a largely defunct 1996 law that has been used to protect internet companies from lawsuits.

Section 230 is one of the few remaining parts of the Communications Decency Act, which was largely struck down by the Supreme Court over free speech concerns.

Despite his warning, the bill does not include any efforts to rescind the statute.

It does, however, compel Trump to impose sanctions on Turkey for its acquisition of the Russian S-400 air defense system under what is known as the Countering America's Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA). 

The US under Trump removed Turkey from the F-35 steal joint strike fighter program in 2019 over the sale, and lawmakers have continued their push for Trump to impose the penalties under CAATSA, which authorizes sanctions against countries that conduct major transactions with Russia's defense industry. 

 Turkey has maintained it only turned to the Russian system after it failed to reach terms during protracted negotiations with the US over the acquisition of Raytheon's Patriot surface-to-air missile systems. Ankara has additionally said the S-400 poses no risk to the F-35.

CAATSA presents what is essentially a “menu” of 12 choices of sanctions of varying severity for a president to select from, with the chief executive tasked with selecting five.

The NDAA would further require the administration to penalties tied to Russia's nearly-complete Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline, which is slated to run from Russia to Germany through the Baltic Sea. 

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