House passes NDAA... by a "yuge" margin

After all of the drama we’ve endured over the passage of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), the end of the story turned out to be rather anticlimactic. The House voted on the bill last night and it not only passed, but it did so in a landslide rarely seen over the past four years. The usual bipartisan support for funding the military and our intelligence agencies showed up once again, with only 40 Republicans and 38 Democrats opposing it. And most of those were the same ones who always oppose the NDAA on principle, though for opposite reasons. The final tally came in at 335-78, providing more than enough leverage to overcome President Trump’s threatened veto of the measure. The bill included the language to change the names of military bases named after Confederate leaders and did not provide a provision to repeal section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. Both of those were sticking points for the White House. (NY Times)

The House overwhelmingly passed a $741 billion defense policy bill on Tuesday that would require that Confederate names be stripped from American military bases, defying President Trump’s veto threat and moving lawmakers one step closer to a potential showdown in his final weeks in office.

The 335-78 bipartisan vote to approve the legislation that authorizes pay raises for American troops reflected optimism among lawmakers in both parties that Congress would be able to force the enactment of the bill over Mr. Trump’s objections, in what would be the first veto override of his presidency. The margin surpassed the two-thirds majority both the House and Senate would need to muster to do so.

It also amounted to a remarkable break from the president by Republicans, who refused to defer to Mr. Trump’s desire to derail the critical bill as his time in the White House comes to a close.

Would the bill have failed or at least not reached bulletproof stature if Trump was cruising toward a second term? That’s impossible to say. But it’s hard to ignore the fact that yesterday’s SCOTUS decision over certifying Pennsylvania’s election results pretty much drove the last nail in the coffin of Trump’s hopes to win a second term. At this point, House Republicans are likely wagering that they don’t need to worry too much about the President’s wrath and they can safely run out the clock on his presidency.

I’m not sure how safe of a bet that is, however. While overturning the election results and denying Joe Biden the win looks like a statistical impossibility at this point, it’s still very likely that Donald Trump will remain a driving force in the GOP for the foreseeable future. He may or may not try for the nomination again in 2024, (he would be 78 when he’s sworn into office if he won) but even if he doesn’t, his supporters across the country aren’t just going to disappear and line up dutifully behind whoever the next GOP savior turns out to be, be it Nikki Haley or Larry Hogan. (Yes, I had to choke back a laugh when I typed that.)

In the end, the NDAA had to be passed and I’m guessing that almost the entire House GOP caucus knew it, even if they didn’t want to say it aloud while Trump was railing against it. And no, I’m not just saying that because the final bill was supposed to include Senate Intelligence Committee’s instructions for a public report from the UAP Task Force. (That portion of the bill was unfortunately decoupled from the Senate version and may never be passed at this point, or at least not until the next Congress is seated.) We have to fund the military and our intelligence agencies because not doing so would be tantamount to committing national seppuku.

If we can take off our partisan hats for a moment, we should also recognize that this is the sort of legislation that should be considered on its own merits without it being festooned with all sorts of bells and whistles that have little or nothing to do with defense spending or intelligence assets. Yes, we can certainly have a debate over what those defense spending levels should be, but dragging things like section 230 into the mix really just serves as a distraction from the critical nature of this bill. It already had too many riders on it as it is.

So, assuming the bill makes it to Trump’s desk in its current form, will he still go through with this threat to veto it anyway? Something tells me he won’t. Donald Trump never likes to be seen as coming out on the losing end of any negotiation. And if the GOP leadership in both chambers privately assures him that the veto will be overridden, that’s precisely what it would look like.