Trump makes good on threat, defunds the military by vetoing defense spending bill

Today was the 10th business day since Congress sent him the bill, meaning that he either had to follow through on his threat to nuke it or do nothing and let it quietly become law via a “pocket veto.” Yesterday Jazz speculated that Trump might back down, reasoning that the president doesn’t like to be thought of as a “loser” and would resent seeing his veto overridden by Congress, as will almost certainly happen here. Trump might be willing to defund the military in a go-nowhere bid to repeal Section 230 and preserve Confederate names for military bases but serious legislators aren’t, so why bother?

Jazz made a good point. But what I think he overlooked is the fact that Trump’s behavior is now driven mainly by spite, particularly spite towards Republican leaders who won’t back him up on his last-ditch attempts to remain in power. That’s why he blew up the stimulus bill last night, I suspect: He probably won’t get his way but his demands will make life harder for Mitch McConnell and the Senate GOP, and that’s good enough for him at this point. Senate Republicans can override his veto of the defense bill but they can’t do it without pissing off some MAGA fans whose votes they need in their next election.

He wants a civil war within the party to punish the establishment for abandoning him. So he’s going to do what he can to make it happen.

“War criminals get pardons, the military gets defunded. Merry Christmas,” said a Twitter pal after the news broke. NYT reporter Maggie Haberman mused that defunding the military is an odd thing to do at a moment when cronies like Mike Flynn are whispering to the president that he should enlist the military to overturn the election.

The override votes are scheduled for next week:

The House passed the defense bill 335-78 while the Senate passed it 84-13, in both cases far beyond the margins they’d need for a two-thirds override supermajority. The question is whether Trump’s anxiety-driven attempts to turn everything into a loyalty test in the final weeks of his presidency might cause a meaningful number of House Republicans to switch their votes on the override for fear of angering him. I can see it both ways. If you’re an R from a deep-red district and you know that he’s in civil-war mode, compiling an enemies list to which more names are being added day by day, maybe you think, “I’d better back him up here and uphold his veto.” Remember that Kevin McCarthy, the leader of the House caucus, has already said that he’ll oppose an override attempt even though he voted for the bill. (Liz Cheney has said otherwise.) There’s no guarantee that the override will happen, which means it may be another month until Sleepy Joe is sworn in and signs the bill instead.

Imagine Trump handing Biden a slam-dunk opportunity to ingratiate himself to the Pentagon on day one by okaying funding that Trump refused to approve.

Still, the override will *probably* happen. Fully 46 House Republicans or 18 Senate Republicans who supported the bill initially will need to switch in order to uphold Trump’s veto. That’s a lot, and if there’s any issue on which GOPers might feel a higher calling than Trump’s approval, it’s funding the troops. Besides, Republicans might reason that there are so many other opportunities coming up for them to prove their “loyalty” that they can afford to ignore the president on this particular test. If you’re a House member who’s planning to vote to reject the electoral college results on January 6, that’s likely enough to earn his good favor even if you override his veto on the defense bill. Same goes for the COVID stimulus package that Trump kinda sorta threatened to veto last night. If you’re with him on that, maybe it’s okay to not be with him on this.

Is he serious about vetoing the COVID bill, though? Don’t be so sure:

I’m not sure what McCarthy means by “keeping parts of the bill they think are good.” The bill already passed. If Trump vetoes it, or if Congress’s session expires before he makes a decision, is McCarthy suggesting that they’ll start over from scratch on negotiations in January? Because that’ll mean many more weeks — or months — of Americans having to wait for relief which they thought was finally in hand until Trump snatched it away last night.

New negotiations may be unavoidable if either the stimulus bill or the defense bill (or both!) ends up expiring and being reintroduced by the new Congress in January. Disgruntled members from both parties are destined to make new demands once the process has been reopened. Here’s Lindsey Graham demonstrating what I mean this morning now that the stimulus is in limbo:

You can tell that’s an empty pander because Graham surely knows that Pelosi would never give Trump the satisfaction of reforming Section 230 on his watch. Just as POTUS’s eleventh-hour demand for bigger stimulus checks makes more sense as a show of spite towards “disloyal” Republican than as a heartfelt policy proposal (otherwise why didn’t he demand it in October?), his interest in repealing Section 230 has nothing to do with national security or bias against conservatives and everything to do with him feeling personally wronged by Twitter. There’s no way Pelosi’s going to upend the Internet as we know it with less than 30 days left in Trump’s term just to help him get revenge on Jack Dorsey for blocking the Hunter Biden story before the election.

Maybe McCarthy will make a deal with Trump. If the president will agree to sign the COVID relief bill, McCarthy will try to round up House Republicans to block the override of Trump’s veto on the defense bill. It makes zero sense politically that Trump should want to end his term by sticking it to the military but it’ll give him an empty “victory” to show his fans as evidence that he “fought” for Section 230 repeal and keeping Confederate names on military bases. (“The leader of the Party of Lincoln gives Braxton Bragg his best day since Chickamauga,” says David French.) Besides, McCarthy knows that the defense bill will pass once Biden’s sworn in. Hopefully the military can make it an extra few weeks without funding until then. Exit quotation from a Republican staffer, speaking to Politico about the last 24 hours: “Complete clusterf***.”

Update: Ah, an interesting point by AOC. Trump’s veto of the defense bill is actually handing Democrats an excuse to meet and add $2,000 checks to the COVID relief package next week. Now McConnell’s screwed on both bills.