NDAA: House lawmakers say they will cut holiday short to override possible Trump veto of defense bill

Rep. Mac Thornberry, the outgoing top Republican on the House Armed Services Committee, said Monday that Congress should return, if needed, to override the possible veto in order to ensure US service members are paid.

“We would be rightly and fairly criticized when we can’t come back to deal with military pay,” Thornberry told reporters. Troops should not be “punished” because lawmakers failed to enact the legislation, he added.

The panel’s Democratic chairman, Rep. Adam Smith, told reporters Monday that if Trump vetoes the bill, also known as the NDAA, lawmakers will cut their holiday short and vote to override.

“If the President vetoes it, yes, we will come back and vote to override,” Smith said, noting that the bill contains too many important provisions, including those related to troop bonuses.

“The President has raised an issue that’s not directly related to the NDAA” he said, referring to Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which the President wants removed. “There’s simply no reason. I mean, he may as well veto every single bill that ever gets passed because it didn’t have something in it that you want.”

Smith also said the committee will “never pass a skinny bill,” telling reporters “that is not an option.” He also said that if the defense bill is not passed, Congress would have to start over next year once the Biden administration takes office but that would be “extraordinarily difficult.”

“For me, the path is clear. There’s not a single member of this Congress who can’t vote for this bill in good conscience and feel good about it in my humble opinion. So we should pass it,” Smith said.

Smith added that he’s spoken with Thornberry, Rep. Mike Rogers of Alabama, who will serve as the panel’s next ranking GOP member, and Senate Republicans who have all expressed strong support for the bill.

Trump’s threat to veto the annual defense bill unless Congress removes legal protections for social media companies drew swift, sharp bipartisan pushback from lawmakers who charged the President was using leverage over the troops to settle personal scores.

His ultimatum and the fiery opposition it provoked sets up a showdown between Congress and the White House over legislation that would give troops a raise and set defense policy for the country.

Rep. Liz Cheney, a member of House GOP leadership, also called Monday for Trump not to veto the bill.

“We ought to pass the NDAA and the President should not veto it. And we should override it,” she told CNN.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer also said the House would return during the holidays if necessary to override a presidential veto on NDAA.

“I would hope so,” Hoyer said when asked by CNN if they would return to session. “That would be my expectation. … We won’t allow him to pocket veto.”

Steve Scalise, the House GOP whip, said Republican leaders have yet to decide whether to side with Trump or vote to pass the bill with a veto-proof majority.

“We haven’t had that discussion yet,” he said.

If Trump successfully vetoes the NDAA it would impact “special pay” for thousands of US service members across the military branches. Special pay includes raises for service members in highly-skilled positions where there is a lot of competition with the private sector for personnel.

“These have to be authorized each calendar year,” a Republican aide told CNN. “If the NDAA is not passed and signed, those pays will go away.”

Separately, National Guardsmen, many of whom have been on the front lines of the Covid-19 response, will lose their health coverage if the NDAA is not passed and signed. These Guardsmen get 180 days of Tricare after they leave active duty but that health coverage would goes away if the bill is not signed, the aide said.

The aide would not say if they believe there are enough votes to override a Trump veto.

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