House votes to override Trump’s veto of defense bill, approves $2K relief checks

Lisa Mascaro and Jill Colvin
Associated Press

The Democratic-controlled House voted Monday to override President Donald Trump’s veto of a defense policy bill.

House members voted 322-87 to override the veto, well above the two-thirds needed to override. If approved by two-thirds of the Senate, the override would be the first of Trump’s presidency.

All of the members of Michigan's House delegation voted for the override except for Reps. Rashida Tlaib, D-Detroit, and Libertarian Justin Amash of Cascade Township.

Trump rejected the defense bill last week, saying it failed to limit social media companies he claims were biased against him during his failed reelection campaign. Trump also opposes language that allows for the renaming of military bases that honor Confederate leaders.

The defense bill, known as the National Defense Authorization Act, or NDAA, affirms 3% pay raises for U.S. troops and authorizes more than $740 billion in military programs and construction.

Trump’s veto of the bill provoked swift condemnation, with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi calling it “an act of staggering recklessness that harms our troops, endangers our security and undermines the will of the bipartisan Congress.”

Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, called the bill “absolutely vital to our national security and our troops,’’ adding, “Our men and women who volunteer to wear the uniform shouldn’t be denied what they need — ever.”

Trump has offered a series of rationales for rejecting the bill. He urged lawmakers to impose limits on Twitter and other social media companies he claimed are biased against him, as well as to strip out language that allows for the renaming of military bases such as Fort Benning and Fort Hood that honor Confederate leaders. Trump also claimed without evidence that the biggest winner from the defense bill would be China.

In his veto message, Trump also said the bill restricts his ability to conduct foreign policy, “particularly my efforts to bring our troops home.’’ Trump was referring to provisions in the bill that impose conditions on his plan to withdraw thousands of troops from Afghanistan and Germany. The measures require the Pentagon to submit reports certifying that the proposed withdrawals would not jeopardize U.S. national security.

Both the House and Senate passed the measure by margins large enough to override a presidential veto. Trump has vetoed eight other bills, but those were all sustained because supporters did not gain the two-thirds vote needed in each chamber for the bills to become law without Trump’s signature.

Rhode Island Sen. Jack Reed, the top Democrat on the Senate Armed Services Committee, said Trump’s declaration that China gained from the defense bill was false. He also noted the shifting explanations Trump had given for the veto.

“From Confederate base names to social media liability provisions … to imaginary and easily refutable charges about China, it’s hard to keep track of President Trump’s unprincipled, irrational excuses for vetoing this bipartisan bill,’’ Reed said.

Reed called the Dec. 23 veto “Trump’s parting gift to (Russian President Vladimir) Putin and a lump of coal for our troops. Donald Trump is showing more devotion to Confederate base names than to the men and women who defend our nation.’’

Rep. Adam Smith, D-Wash., chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, said Trump’s veto “made it clear that he does not care about the needs of our military personnel and their families.’’

The measure guides Pentagon policy and cements decisions about troop levels, new weapons systems and military readiness, personnel policy and other military goals. Many programs, including military construction, can only go into effect if the bill is approved.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, in a rare break with Trump, had urged passage of the defense bill despite Trump’s veto threat. McConnell said it was important for Congress to continue its nearly six-decade-long streak of passing the defense policy bill.

House approves Trump’s $2K checks, sending to GOP-led Senate

The House voted Monday to increase COVID-19 relief checks to $2,000, meeting President Donald Trump’s demand for bigger payments and sending the bill to the GOP-controlled Senate, where the outcome is uncertain.

Democrats led passage, 275-134, their majority favoring additional assistance. They had settled for smaller $600 payments in a compromise with Republicans over the big year-end relief bill Trump reluctantly signed into law.

The vote divides Republicans who mostly resist more spending. But many House Republicans joined in support, despite being wary of bucking the president. Senators are set to return to session Tuesday to consider the measure.

The House was voting during the rare holiday week session on Trump’s unmet demand for larger $2,000 virus relief checks. Democrats who control the House favor the larger stipends, beyond the $600 payments included in the massive COVID bill. But the president’s push for more spending is forcing his Republican allies who oppose the higher payments into a tough spot.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi declared, “Republicans have a choice: Vote for this legislation or vote to deny the American people” the assistance she said they need during the pandemic.

The showdown could end up as more symbol than substance, and the outcome is highly uncertain. Republican leaders indicated their party is split - some objecting to more spending while others are inclined to support Trump’s push for checks, wary of bucking the outgoing president’s demands.

Rep. Kevin Brady of Texas, acknowledged the division and said Congress had already approved ample funds during the COVID crisis. “Nothing in this bill helps anybody get back to work,” he said.

It’s unclear if Trump will have accomplished anything during the days of drama over his refusal to accept the sweeping bipartisan deal negotiated by his own administration.

The package the president signed into law late Sunday in Florida, where he is spending the holidays, includes two parts – $900 billion in COVID aid and $1.4 trillion to fund government agencies. It will deliver long-sought cash to businesses and individuals and avert a federal government shutdown that otherwise would have started Tuesday, in the midst of the public health crisis.

Aside from the direct $600 checks to most Americans, the COVID portion of the bill revives a weekly pandemic jobless benefit boost – this time $300, through March 14 – as well as a popular Paycheck Protection Program of grants to businesses to keep workers on payrolls. It extends eviction protections, adding a new rental assistance fund.

The COVID package draws and expands on an earlier effort from Washington, the largest of its kind. It offers billions of dollars for vaccine purchases and distribution, for virus contact tracing, public health departments, schools, universities, farmers, food pantry programs and other institutions and groups facing hardship in the pandemic.

Americans earning up to $75,000 will qualify for the direct $600 payments, which are phased out at higher income levels, and there’s an additional $600 payment per dependent child.

Meantime the government funding portion of the bill keeps federal agencies nationwide running without dramatic changes until Sept. 30.

Together with votes Monday and Tuesday to override Trump’s veto of a sweeping defense bill, the attempt to send much higher pandemic-era checks to people is perhaps the last standoff of the president’s final days in office as he imposes fresh demands and disputes the results of the presidential election. The new Congress is set to be sworn in Sunday.

The bill is expected to easily pass the House, but faces resistance Tuesday from the Republican-led Senate.

Trump’s sudden decision to sign the bill came as he faced escalating criticism from lawmakers on all sides over his eleventh-hour demands. The bipartisan bill negotiated by Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin had already passed the House and Senate by wide margins. Lawmakers had thought they had Trump’s blessing after months of negotiations with his administration.

The president’s defiant refusal to act, publicized with a heated video he tweeted just before the Christmas holiday, sparked chaos, a lapse in unemployment benefits for millions and the threat of a government shutdown in the pandemic. It was another crisis of his own making, resolved when he ultimately signed the bill into law.

In his statement about the signing, Trump repeated his frustrations with the COVID-19 relief bill for providing only $600 checks to most Americans and complained about what he considered unnecessary spending, particularly on foreign aid – much of it proposed by his own budget.

While the president insisted he would send Congress “a redlined version” with spending items he wants removed, those are merely suggestions to Congress. Democrats said they would resist such cuts.

For now, the administration can only begin work sending out the $600 payments.

A day after the signing, Trump was back at the golf course in Florida, where he is expected to move after President-elect Joe Biden is sworn in on January 20.

Republican Rep. Mo Brooks of Alabama, a conservative who supported Trump’s extraordinary and futile challenge of the election results, counted himself Monday among the opponents of a more generous relief package and Trump’s call for higher payments.

“It’s money we don’t have, we have to borrow to get and we can’t afford to pay back,” he said on “Fox and Friends.”

But Republican Rep. Elise Stefanik of New York said she was open to the idea of $2,000 checks. “Many Americans are in dire need of relief,” she said on the show.

Altogether, Republicans and Democrats alike swiftly welcomed Trump’s decision to sign the bill into law.

“The compromise bill is not perfect, but it will do an enormous amount of good for struggling Kentuckians and Americans across the country who need help now,” said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. “I thank the President for signing this relief into law.”

Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said he would offer Trump’s proposal for $2,000 checks for a vote in Senate – putting Republicans on the spot.

“The House will pass a bill to give Americans $2,000 checks,” Schumer tweeted. “Then I will move to pass it in the Senate.” He said no Democrats will object. “Will Senate Republicans?”

Democrats are promising more aid to come once Biden takes office, but Republicans are signaling a wait-and-see approach.

Biden told reporters at an event in Wilmington, Delaware, that he supported the $2,000 checks.