Despite having been vetoed by Donald Trump, the 2020 William M. (Mac) Thornberry National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) has now become law after the United States Senate joined the U.S. House in overriding Donald Trump’s veto by an extremely lopsided margin of eighty-one to thirteen.
The NDAA, as its name suggests, is the vehicle that Congress uses to make military and defense appropriations. It is one of the few recurring pieces of legislation that still typically receives broad bipartisan support from members of Congress, who tend to be extremely affluent (about one in two members of Congress are millionaires) and supportive of ever-bigger budgets for the Pentagon.
The bill has provisions in it that Donald Trump does not like, including one secured by Senator Elizabeth Warren that gets the ball rolling on renaming all the military bases absurdly named for traitorous Confederate generals.
Consideration of the veto override had been held up by Senator Bernie Sanders (I‑Vermont), who has been demanding the Senate pass legislation to authorize $2,000 direct payments for Americans for COVID-19 relief.
All of the Democrats in the Senate support voting on the legislation to authorize the $2,000 payments, but most Democrats were unwilling to risk the veto override not getting done before the current Congress is forced to adjourn on Sunday.
“I just took to the floor again to demand a vote on $2,000 survival checks,” said Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer on Twitter after the successful override, keeping the focus on Democrats’ COVID-19 relief efforts.
“Senator Thune (R‑SD) objected. Senator Sanders again demanded a vote on $2000 checks— and then on Senator McConnell’s own bill. Senator Cornyn objected (R‑TX) for Senator Toomey (R‑PA). Democrats will not stop fighting.”
The roll call from the Pacific Northwest was as follows:
Voting To Override Trump’s Veto: Democratic Senators Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell (WA), Jon Tester (MT); Republican Senators Jim Risch and Mike Crapo (ID), Steve Daines (MT), Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan (AK)
Voting To Sustain Trump’s Veto: Democratic Senators Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley (OR)
The other eleven senators who voted nay were Cory Booker (New Jersey), Mike Braun (Indiana), Tom Cotton (Arkansas), Ted Cruz (Texas), Josh Hawley (Missouri), John Kennedy (Louisiana), Mike Lee (Utah), Ed Markey and Elizabeth Warren (Massachusetts), Rand Paul (Kentucky), and Bernie Sanders (Vermont).
Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue of Georgia, who are fighting for their political lives in a pair of runoff elections that will conclude on January 5th, did not vote. Neither did Republicans Cory Gardner (Colorado), Lindsey Graham (South Carolina) or Ben Sasse (Nebraska). Doug Jones of Alabama also missed the vote.
The bill authorizes appropriations to DOD for
- Procurement, including aircraft, weapons and tracked combat vehicles, shipbuilding and conversion, and missiles;
- Research, Development, Test, and Evaluation;
- Operation and Maintenance;
- Working Capital Funds;
- Chemical Agents and Munitions Destruction;
- Drug Interdiction and Counter-Drug Activities;
- the Defense Inspector General;
- the National Defense Sealift Fund;
- the Defense Health Program;
- the Armed Forces Retirement Home;
- the Space Force;
- Overseas Contingency Operations; and
- Military Construction.
The bill also authorizes the FY2021 personnel strengths for active duty and reserve forces and sets forth policies regarding
- military personnel;
- acquisition policy and management;
- international programs;
- National Guard and Reserve Force facilities;
- compensation and other personnel benefits;
- health care;
- matters relating to COVID-19 (i.e., coronavirus disease 2019);
- DOD organization and management;
- civilian personnel matters;
- matters relating to foreign nations; and
- strategic programs, cyber, and intelligence matters.
The bill authorizes appropriations for base realignment and closure activities, and maritime matters.
The bill authorizes appropriations and sets forth policies for Department of Energy national security programs, including the National Nuclear Security Administration and the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board.
The bill also sets forth policies regarding certain federal activities related to artificial intelligence, including implementation by the President of a National Artificial Intelligence Initiative to support research and development, education, and training programs.
The United States Senate is rarely in session on New Year’s Day, but Trump’s veto forced Mitch McConnell (who loves big government, as long as it’s a certain kind of big government) to schedule a special holiday session in order to get the NDAA approved as one of the chamber’s final acts of the current Congress.
H.R. 6395 is the first bill to have been implemented by Congress over the objections of Donald Trump through a veto override.