Congress Pushes Back on Trump’s Threat to Veto Defense Bill

Michael Rainey

In a pair of tweets late Tuesday, President Trump threatened to veto the National Defense Authorization Act unless lawmakers repeal certain legal protections for social media companies.

Trump claimed that the target of his ire – section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996 – is a “serious threat” to “National Security & Election Integrity” in the U.S. “Our Country can never be safe & secure if we allow it to stand,” the president said. “Therefore, if the very dangerous & unfair Section 230 is not completely terminated as part of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), I will be forced to unequivocally VETO the Bill when sent to the very beautiful Resolute desk. Take back America NOW.”

Trump has threatened to veto the 2021 NDAA before, citing his opposition to a bipartisan provision that would require renaming military bases that honor Confederate leaders. The White House reportedly floated the idea last week of accepting the renaming provision in exchange for repealing section 230, but Trump made no reference to the military base issue in his veto threat Tuesday.

What’s going on: Along with some fellow Republicans, Trump maintains that the law, which shields companies from liability for the content posted online by their users, allows big tech firms such as Facebook and Twitter to censor conservative voices. There is no evidence that this is true, and the annual NDAA, which defines the size of the Pentagon budget and establishes key defense policy issues, has no obvious, real-world connection to the issue of liability protections for tech companies.

Congress is critical: Lawmakers from both parties pushed back against the president’s threat Wednesday. Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman James Inhofe (R-OK) said he told the White House that he would not include the repeal provision Trump wants in the final version of the bill. “230 has nothing to do with the military,” he said. “I agree with his sentiments ... but you can’t do it in this bill. That’s not a part of the bill.”

Another conservative Republican, Sen. John Thune of Wyoming, said that while he is sympathetic with the president’s criticism of the communications law, he does not support his current approach. “I don't think the defense bill is the place to litigate that,” Thune said.

Michigan Republican Rep. Paul Mitchell of the Armed Services Committee was more pointed, saying in a tweet that “as a member of House Armed Services I am disgusted with these threats to veto the NDAA. It is a strong bi-partisan DEFENSE policy bill. Not the place for a rush job last minute whack at social media.” Texas Republican Rep. Chip Roy also took issue with the president’s threat: “'Take it or leave it' legislating is why Congress is broken,” Roy tweeted. “Sec 230 should NOT be mixed with NDAA & used by @realDonaldTrump to veto.”

Not every lawmaker spoke against the president’s effort, however. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) said he was in favor of Trump “using all the leverage he can.”

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