House Approves Final Passage of Annual Defense-Policy Bill, 335-78

President Trump during a ceremony in the Oval Office on Monday.

Photo: saul loeb/Agence France-Presse/Getty Images

WASHINGTON—The House approved final passage of a $740.5 billion annual defense-policy bill by a vote of 335-78, far exceeding the two-thirds majority that would be needed to override a veto threatened by President Trump.

Dozens of Republican lawmakers had earlier in the day lined up behind Mr. Trump to vote against the National Defense Authorization Act, which secures hazard-pay raises for troops and other crucial military spending items. But their opposition wasn’t enough to thwart the passage of an annual bill that Congress has approved on a bipartisan basis for 59 years in a row.

The bill passed Tuesday by an even larger margin than an earlier House version passed in July, 295-125. This week’s vote was a rebuke to an embattled president who sought to force major changes in the legislation after the two parties in both chambers of Congress had agreed on compromise language.

“I hope House Republicans will vote against the very weak National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which I will VETO,” Mr. Trump tweeted Tuesday. The bill, which secures pay rates for troops and other crucial military spending items, has passed on a bipartisan basis for 59 years in a row.

The president again said Congress must jettison a provision in the annual bill that would create a commission to rename military installations, monuments and paraphernalia honoring Confederate commanders. He also reiterated that he wanted language included in the bill to terminate Section 230 of the 1996 Communications Decency Act, which granted social-media companies broad immunity for the content they publish from users on their site.

Leaders in government and tech want to rewrite a law that governs the internet. WSJ explains Section 230, how it shaped the modern internet, and what lawmakers and tech executives want to change. Photo illustration: Carlos Waters/WSJ

Mr. Trump also added two demands he hadn’t made earlier, saying the bill must “allow for 5G & troupe reductions in foreign lands!”

While Republicans and Democrats in Congress indicated in recent days that they intended to pass the bill over Mr. Trump’s objections, the House Freedom Caucus, a group of the chamber’s most conservative lawmakers, said Tuesday they would oppose the NDAA and support Mr. Trump’s veto.

“This is real simple, we need to go back and rework this bill,” said Rep. Jim Jordan (R., Ohio), a member of the group.

Freedom Caucus members also cited a provision that limits how much money can be used on emergency military construction—an authority Mr. Trump used to repurpose funds for the border wall. The White House’s formal veto threat issued Tuesday also pointed to this measure.

“It curtails the president’s abilities to protect our southern border from drug trafficking, from human trafficking, from infiltration of all kind of manner of terrorists, if they would want to come through,” said Rep. Scott Perry (R., Pa.), who served in the Army National Guard. “How is that supporting national defense?”

Members of the House Freedom Caucus, outside the U.S. Capitol in Washington on Tuesday, prepared to announce their support for President Trump’s threat to veto the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).

Photo: jim lo scalzo/Shutterstock

In July, a Senate version of the bill passed 86-14 and a House version passed 295-125. This week, the Senate is expected to approve the same compromise bill passed by the House on Tuesday and send it to the president’s desk.

On a House GOP conference call on Tuesday, the top-ranking Republican on the House Armed Services Committee, retiring Rep. Mac Thornberry (R., Texas), said his goal was to get as many votes as possible for the NDAA in the hopes the president would sign it. On the same call, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R., Calif.) said if Mr. Trump vetoes the bill, he would vote to sustain the veto.

“I don’t believe Republicans, in our work with the president, always, that you vote to override a veto,” Mr. McCarthy told reporters.

Other Republicans have been more willing to buck the president on the annual defense bill.

“Failure to pass this act would force hundreds of thousands of our men and women in uniform and their families to endure cuts to their pay right before the holidays. Over 250,000 military families would lose their hazardous duty pay,” warned Rep. Liz Cheney (R., Wyo.), a member of House GOP leadership, in a floor speech Tuesday. “Given the sacrifices they make for all of us, our troops should never have their livelihoods threatened by political battles in Washington, D.C.”

Sen. Jim Inhofe (R., Okla.), chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said he had spoken with Mr. Trump many times, most recently on Monday, to reiterate why the NDAA must become law.

“He knows it’s my bill, I want it, the country needs it,” Mr. Inhofe said. “And we have a rare disagreement. Because I agree with almost everything he’s been doing: the economy, energy, all these things, and the military. But the NDAA, that’s the most important bill of the year.”

He added: “I’m disappointed, because it is really critical.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) stressed that Congress hasn’t failed to pass the NDAA for nearly 60 years. “If it comes over from the House, obviously I’m going to put it on the floor, and it’s my intention to vote for it,” he said Tuesday at the Senate GOP leaders’ weekly news conference.

Mr. McConnell declined to address the prospect of an override vote, saying, “We don’t know for sure whether the bill will be vetoed or not.”

At a news conference on Tuesday, House Democratic Caucus Chair Hakeem Jeffries (D., N.Y.) said: “The bill will pass with robust support amongst Democrats and Republicans, likely sufficient to indicate to the president that if he chooses to veto the bill, he will be overridden.”

Asked for comment after the House vote, a White House official referred to an administration statement released earlier in the day on the NDAA, saying it “contradicts efforts by this administration to put America first in our national security and foreign policy actions.”

While it couldn’t immediately be determined what Mr. Trump was referring to in his tweet about fifth-generation mobile networks and troop withdrawals, the defense bill includes several measures that could complicate his plans to withdraw U.S. troops from Afghanistan and Germany, which have alarmed some Republicans.

The NDAA requires the administration to submit to Congress a comprehensive assessment of the withdrawal before it can use funds to pull out troops. Another provision prevents the withdrawal of troops from Germany until 120 days after the secretary of defense formally assesses the move for Congress. That would delay any such withdrawal until after President-elect Joe Biden takes office.

The White House didn’t clarify the president’s latest objections to the bill, which also includes some provisions that address the development of 5G wireless networks. One proposal included in recent versions could slow wireless spectrum-owner Ligado Networks’ plan to provide new wireless service.

Administration officials are also seeking to commercialize more midrange spectrum that the Pentagon uses for radar and other military applications. One proposal would sell a slice of the airwaves through a traditional Federal Communications Commission auction. Another plan, opposed by the wireless industry groups as a step toward “nationalization,” would provide even more spectrum through a wholesale contractor.

The bill becomes law if the president signs it or without his signature after 10 days. If he vetoes it, funding authorizations for some defense programs are set to expire on Jan. 1, including $8.5 billion for military construction, $70 million for local schools educating military children, special pay, bonuses and hazard pay for military members deployed to dangerous areas, as well as full pay for Defense Department civilian employees.

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Appeared in the December 9, 2020, print edition as ‘House Easily Passes Defense Bill Over Trump’s Objections.’