President Trump was on track to suffer the first veto override of his presidency Wednesday evening as the Republican-controlled Senate cleared a key procedural hurdle to joining the Democratic House in passing a popular $740.5 defense policy bill over his strong objections.
With just days to go before the end of the session, the Senate voted 80-12 to proceed with debate on Mr. Trump’s veto of the 2021 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), a sign there were far more than enough votes to obtain the two-thirds majority needed to override.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell adjourned the chamber immediately after the vote and said the final debate would start Thursday at noon, although it remained unclear when a final override vote would come. Senators earlier this month had approved the original NDAA by a 84-13 margin.
Breaking from the White House, several longtime Trump allies including Mr. McConnell and Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman James Inhofe, Oklahoma Republicans, have championed efforts to pass the massive bill.
Mr. Trump had repeatedly threatened to veto the legislation, citing an evolving litany of problems with the bill. They include a provision sponsored by Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Massachusetts Democrat, to strip Confederate names from U.S. military installations, new restrictions on U.S. troop withdrawals abroad, and a last-minute White House demand that lawmakers include a repeal of federal telecommunications law giving broad legal immunity to “Big Tech” companies such as Facebook and Twitter for the content on their sites.
Mr. Trump kept up the pressure in a string of angry Twitter messages this week, castigating “weak and tired Republican ‘leadership’” for failing back his veto. “Negotiate a better bill or get better leaders,” Mr. Trump tweeted Tuesday.
But the NDAA traditionally enjoys bipartisan support, and even many Republicans said such items as the measure dealing social media content did not belong in a bill setting budget and policy goals for the Pentagon.
“President Trump has rightly noted this year’s defense bill doesn’t contain every provision that we Republicans would have wanted,” Mr. McConnell said on the Senate floor Tuesday. “I’m confident our Democratic colleagues feel the same way. But that is the case every year.”
“And yet,” he added, “for 59 consecutive years and counting, Washington has put our differences aside, found common ground, and passed the annual defense bill.”
The Senate vote to proceed to debate came just two days after the House overwhelmingly voted to override Mr. Trump’s veto by a margin of 322-87. Just a few Republicans switched to Mr. Trump’s side compared to the earlier vote approving the bill.
But the Senate’s efforts hit a roadblock when Democratic lawmakers moved to filibuster the override vote until the chamber held a vote to increase stimulus checks from $600 to $2,000, a move approved by Mr. Trump as well as lawmakers on both sides of the aisle. The House approved the check increase on Monday.
Senators faced a tight deadline to approve legislation before the incoming Congress is sworn in Sunday.
As in the past, this year’s NDAA includes a number of attractive features for lawmakers, including a 3% troop pay raise, funding for new weapons systems, new policies to deter China and Russia, and increases in housing protections and standards for military families.
It also rescinds Mr. Trump’s emergency declaration to obtain funding for the Mexican border wall, puts at least a temporary hold on plans to draw down more troops in Afghanistan, Germany and South Korea, and orders a Government Accounting Office study of U.S. backing for Saudi Arabia in Yemen’s civil war.
In his four years in the White House, Mr. Trump has issued nine vetoes. But until Wednesday, none of his vetoes had been overturned by Congress. He was just weeks short of becoming the first president since Lyndon Johnson not to have a veto reversed by Congress.