Meeting in a rare New Year's Day session, the Senate secured the two-thirds majority needed to override the veto with bipartisan support two days before a new Congress will be sworn in on Sunday. Eight previous vetoes have been upheld.

US Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) arrives before a cloture vote on overriding the veto on the National Defense Authorization Act on Capitol Hill in Washington, US, January 1, 2021.
US Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) arrives before a cloture vote on overriding the veto on the National Defense Authorization Act on Capitol Hill in Washington, US, January 1, 2021. (Reuters)

President Donald Trump's fellow Republicans in the US Senate have overridden his veto for the first time in his nearly four years in office, pushing through a bill on defence spending against his strong objections 20 days before he leaves office.

Meeting in a rare New Year's Day session, the Senate secured the two-thirds majority needed to override the veto with bipartisan support two days before a new Congress will be sworn in on Sunday. Eight previous vetoes have been upheld.

Republican lawmakers have largely stood by the president during his turbulent White House term.

Since losing his re-election bid in November, however, Trump has lashed out at them for not fully backing his unsupported claims of voting fraud, rejecting his demand for bigger Covid-19 relief checks and for moving toward the veto override.

The Republican-led Senate, following the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives on Monday, passed the measure without his support, voting 81-13.

$740 billion NDAA

A US president has the power to veto a bill passed by Congress, but lawmakers can uphold the bill if two-thirds of both the House of Representatives and Senate vote to override it.

The $740 billion National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) determines everything from how many ships are bought to soldiers' pay and how to address geopolitical threats, but Trump refused to sign it into law because it did not repeal certain legal protections for social media platforms and did include a provision stripping the names of Confederate generals from military bases.

"We’ve passed this legislation 59 years in a row. And one way or another, we’re going to complete the 60th annual NDAA and pass it into law before this Congress concludes on Sunday," Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell said.

Trump, who returned to Washington on Thursday from his private club in Florida, has ramped up pressure on fellow Republicans and slammed party leadership for failing to do his bidding on the two measures and for not more fully joining his fight to overturn the election results.

As votes were being counted indicating Trump had lost the battle over the bill, the president took to Twitter to tout a protest rally being planned in Washington on Wednesday, the day the new Congress officially tallies the Electoral College votes certifying Democrat Joe Biden's presidential victory.

Some Trump allies in Congress have said they plan to object on Trump's behalf.

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'Chance to ensure we keep pace with competitors'

The 81-13 vote in the Senate followed an earlier 322-87 override vote in the House of the widely popular defence measure. The bill provides a 3% pay raise for US troops and guides defence policy, cementing 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.

The bill "looks after our brave men and women who volunteer to wear the uniform,'' Senate Majority Leader McConnell said. “But it’s also a tremendous opportunity: to direct our national security priorities to reflect the resolve of the American people and the evolving threats to their safety, at home and abroad. It’s our chance to ensure we keep pace with competitors like Russia and China.''

The Senate override was delayed after Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., objected to moving ahead until McConnell allowed a vote on a Trump-backed plan to increase Covid-19 relief payments to $2,000. McConnell did not allow that vote; instead he used his parliamentary power to set a vote limiting debate on the defence measure, overcoming a filibuster threat by Sanders and Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer of New York.

Without a bipartisan agreement, a vote on the bill could have been delayed until Saturday night. Lawmakers, however, agreed to an immediate roll call on Friday once the filibuster threat was stopped.

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'Disappointed'

Trump rejected the defence measure last week, saying it failed to limit social media companies he claimed were biased against him during his failed reelection campaign. Trump also opposed language that allows for the renaming of military bases that honour Confederate leaders.

There was no immediate comment from Trump or the White House on Friday.

Senator Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said he was “disappointed” with Trump’s veto and called the bill “absolutely vital to our national security and our troops.″

“This is the most important bill we have,″ Inhofe said. “It puts members of the military first.″

Trump has succeeded throughout his four-year term in enforcing party discipline in Congress, with few Republicans willing to publicly oppose him. The bipartisan overrides on the defence bill showed the limits of Trump’s influence in the final weeks of his term.

Earlier this week, 130 House Republicans voted against the Trump-backed Covid relief checks, with many arguing they were unnecessary and would increase the federal budget deficit.

The Democratic-controlled House approved the larger payments, but the plan is all but dead in the Senate, another sign of Trump’s fading hold over Congress.

Besides his concerns about social media and military base names, Trump also said the defence bill restricted 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 jeopardise US national security.

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 Senator Jack Reed, the top Democrat on the Senate Armed Services Committee, called Trump's December 23 veto a “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.″

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Source: TRTWorld and agencies