U.S. Senate backs massive defense bill, defying Trump veto threat

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -The U.S. Senate on Friday threw its weight behind the annual National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), a $740 billion bill setting policy for the Department of Defense, passing the bill with a margin large enough to overcome President Donald Trump’s promised veto.

The vote in the Republican-controlled Senate was 84 to 13, more than the two-thirds majority needed in the 100-member chamber needed to override a veto, a rare break between members of the president’s party in Congress and the White House.

The 13 ‘no’ votes were a mix of some of the most conservative Republicans and most liberal Democrats.

The Democratic-led House of Representatives backed the NDAA by 335 to 78 earlier this week, also more than the two-thirds majority needed. Senate passage sends it to Trump’s desk, weeks before he leaves office. [L1N2IO36Y]

Backers hope strong bipartisan support will prompt Trump to reconsider his threat to veto the bill, which has become law for 59 straight years.

“It’s simple, what this bill does,” said Senator Jim Inhofe, the Republican chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee. “It makes our country more secure, and it supports our troops who defend it.”

The White House said Trump’s position had not changed. The Republican president will have 10 days - minus Sundays - to veto, sign or allow it to become law without his signature.

Trump objects to the fiscal 2021 NDAA because it does not repeal Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which protects technology companies like Alphabet Inc’s Google, Twitter Inc and Facebook Inc from liability for what appears on their platforms.

Trump’s threats frustrated lawmakers from both parties, who said the tech measure has nothing to do with defense. They also said Trump’s concerns about social media should not kill legislation considered essential for the Pentagon and the result of nearly a year’s work.

Without providing significant evidence, Trump and supporters insist tech firms have an anti-conservative bias, which the companies deny. Anger over the issue intensified after Trump lost the Nov. 3 election.

Trump also wants to block an NDAA provision stripping the names of Confederate generals from military bases. Trump says it disregards history, but supporters say it is long past time to stop honoring men who fought Union forces in the 1861-1865 Civil War in order to continue enslaving Black Americans.

Trump opposes parts of the legislation that could slow plans to withdraw troops from Afghanistan and Germany, but such initiatives would be subject to review by the incoming administration of Democratic President-elect Joe Biden.

The NDAA determines everything from how many ships are bought to soldiers’ pay to how to address geopolitical threats. Because it is a compromise, combining separate measures already passed in the House and Senate, it cannot be amended and will expire on Jan. 3 if the veto is not overturned.

A successful veto override would be the first of Trump’s four-year presidency. He has had eight sustained.

Reporting by Patricia Zengerle, additional reporting by Steve Holland; editing by Philippa Fletcher and Rosalba O’Brien