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The House and Senate will return the week after Christmas to vote to override President Donald Trump if he makes good on his threat to veto annual defense policy legislation.
The House on Monday locked in a Dec. 28 veto override on the National Defense Authorization Act. And early on Tuesday morning, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said the upper chamber will return to session on Dec. 29 to tackle the veto if the House vote is successful.
A veto override of the defense policy bill would be the first of Trump's presidency and deliver one last legislative rebuke to the president in his final weeks in office.
Trump has until Wednesday to sign or veto the bill or permit it to become law without his signature. Lawmakers anticipate he'll wait as long as possible to veto the legislation.
House Democratic leaders had been eyeing an override vote during the week between Christmas and New Year's.
On the Senate floor following late night votes on government funding legislation, McConnell announced that he and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer had agreed to hold two pro forma sessions — where the Senate convenes but doesn’t conduct any legislative business — in the coming days and return on Dec. 29 to “process” a veto override.
"My intention was and is to ensure the Senate continues fulfilling our obligation to the men and women of our armed forces," McConnell said. "I hope the president will not veto this bill."
It’s unclear if any further procedural roadblocks may be thrown up that will slow down a Senate vote next week. House aides say the override needs to head to the Senate by Dec. 29 to give leaders there enough time before the Jan. 3 end of session to clear any hurdles if individual senators try to jam up the process.
Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), who held up passage of the defense bill this month over opposition to provisions that limit troop withdrawals from Afghanistan, may still be a wild card. Paul on early Tuesday threatened to block the Senate from scheduling pro forma sessions leading up to a veto override, but ultimately didn’t object to McConnell’s plan on the Senate floor.
The Kentucky Republican on Monday, however, threatened to slow consideration of a veto override.
"I’ve told them I’ll come back to try to prevent them from easily overriding the defense bill veto," Paul told reporters.
The Senate had eyed an override vote as late as Jan. 3, just hours before the new Congress is sworn in.
Trump has dangled a veto threat over the $741 billion defense bill for weeks. The president demanded, late in negotiations, that a final bill repeal a legal shield for social media companies, known as Section 230. Trump also opposes provisions that strip the names of Confederate leaders from military bases and limit troop withdrawals from Europe and Afghanistan.
Lawmakers in both parties brushed off Trump's last-minute demand, and the bill passed the House and Senate with wide enough margins to overcome a veto.
The compromise bill passed the House this month in a 335-78 blowout. The Senate cleared the measure in a similarly wide 84-13 vote.
Some Republicans may switch their votes to avoid contradicting Trump on the veto. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, for instance, said he won't buck Trump if the president vetoes the bill. But several dozen House GOP lawmakers would need to defect to sink the bill.
If the override fails in the House, a vote in the Senate will be moot and won't happen.
Andrew Desiderio contributed to this report.