GOP-led Senate delivers first successful veto override of Trump's presidency in fight over defense bill during his final weeks in office

John Haltiwanger
Mitch McConnell
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) speaks as House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) U.S. President Donald Trump listen during a signing ceremony for H.R. 748, the CARES Act in the Oval Office of the White House on March 27, 2020 in Washington, DC. Erin Schaff-Pool/Getty Images
  • The Senate on Friday voted to override President Donald Trump's veto on the National Defense Authorization Act, a $741 billion defense bill.

  • This represented the first successful veto override of Trump's presidency, though he's issued nine vetoes in his tenure.

  • The president took issue with the defense bill largely because it did not include a provision addressing his unrelated concerns surrounding social media.

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The Republican-controlled Senate spent New Year's Day voting to override President Donald Trump's veto of the National Defense Authorization Act, delivering a major legislative defeat to the commander-in-chief during his final weeks in office.

This marked the first successful veto override of Trump's presidency. Trump has issued nine vetoes in total.

On Friday, the Senate voted 81-13 to override Trump's veto. Seven Republicans, five Democrats, and independent Sen. Bernie Sanders voted against the bill.

Notably, five Republicans and one Democrat didn't vote on the override, including GOP Sens. Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue of Georgia, who are both up for reelection in a runoff on Tuesday.

Read moreSecret Service experts are speculating in group chats about how Trump might be hauled out of the White House if he won't budge on Inauguration Day

Previously, many House Republicans joined Democrats in a 322 to 87 vote to override Trump's veto, prompting the president to lash out. Overall, 109 House Republicans broke from Trump to support the veto override.

On Friday, the president responded to the news in a tweet: "Our Republican Senate just missed the opportunity to get rid of Section 230, which gives unlimited power to Big Tech companies. Pathetic!!! Now they want to give people ravaged by the China Virus $600, rather than the $2000 which they so desperately need. Not fair, or smart!"

Trump previously described the move to override his veto as a "disgraceful act of cowardice."

"Weak and tired Republican 'leadership' will allow the bad Defense Bill to pass," Trump tweeted on Tuesday. 

"Say goodbye to VITAL Section 230 termination, your National Monuments, Forts (names!) and Treasures (inserted by Elizabeth 'Pocahontas' Warren), 5G, and our great soldiers being removed and brought home from foreign lands who do NOTHING for us," Trump added.

Trump broke from decades of GOP orthodoxy in objecting to the 2021 NDAA, the annual defense bill that has passed and been signed into law without major incident for six decades - until now. For years, Republicans have made undying support for the military a central tenet of their political philosophy.

The $741 billion legislation provides appropriations for the Defense Department and defense-related activities at other federal agencies.

But Trump took issue with the bill over its inclusion of a provision allowing for the renaming of military bases commemorating Confederate leaders. He also pushed for lawmakers to include a provision that would address his unrelated complaints regarding social media companies.

Trump has been pushing for the repeal of Section 230, a part of the Communications Decency Act that protects social-media companies from liability over third-party content posted on their platforms. The president has repeatedly claimed that social media companies are biased against conservatives.

Though the GOP has exhibited uncanny loyalty to Trump throughout his short but tumultuous tenure, top Republicans were not willing to allow Trump to derail the bill over these matters. GOP Sen. Jim Inhofe, the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, in early December said Section 230 has "nothing to do with the military." And Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell consistently underscored the importance of the bill.

"This will unlock more than $740 billion for the training, tools, and cutting-edge equipment that our service members and civilian employees need to defend American lives and American interests," McConnell said during a Senate speech on December 10. "It will give our troops the 3% pay raise they deserve. It'll keep our forces ready to deter China and stand strong in the Indo-Pacific."

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