Donald Trump suffered fresh humiliation on Monday when more than a hundred Republicans joined Democrats in the House of Representatives to override his veto of a $741bn defence bill.
If, as expected, the Senate follows suit later this week, it will be Congress’s first such rebuke of his presidency, which has only three weeks left to run.
During a high stakes day on Capitol Hill, the Democratic-controlled House also voted to boost coronavirus relief payments to $2,000 per person. This was a step endorsed by Trump but is thought unlikely to progress in the Senate.
The National Defense Authorization Act, which funds service members’ pay, overseas military operations and other needs, has been passed by Congress every year since 1967. Trump exercised his veto last week, returning the bill with objections including its proposal to change the names of 10 military bases honouring Confederate leaders.
Trump was also aggrieved that the legislation did not repeal repeal Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which protects tech companies from legal liability over content posted by their users. The president has accused Facebook and Twitter of political bias against him.
His objections served as the latest loyalty test for Republicans in the aftermath of his election defeat by Joe Biden. Kevin McCarthy, the House minority leader, announced that he would not vote to override Trump’s veto despite supporting the original bill, which passed both chambers of Congress with strong bipartisan backing.
But it was not enough. Some 109 Republicans broke from Trump on Monday and joined Democrats to support the bill. The final tally of 322-87 comfortably reached the two thirds threshold required to override the veto.
Mac Thornberry, the most senior Republican on the House armed services committee, urged colleagues who had supported the bill earlier this month to back it again. “It’s the exact same bill, not a comma has changed,” he said. “I would only ask that as members vote, they put the best interests of the country first. There is no other consideration that should matter.”
Democrat Adam Smith, chair of the committee, said: “It is enormously important that we pass this bill. We did it once. Let’s just do it one more time, and then we can all go home for the year. We can be done, and we can be proud of what we have accomplished.”
The bill is expected to go before the Republican-controlled Senate later this week. It will become law if passed with a two thirds majority. Trump has exercised a veto nine times during his presidency, but this would be the first override by Congress.
Nancy Pelosi, the speaker of the House, expressed gratitude that Trump’s “dangerous sabotage efforts” had been thwarted. “The president must end his eleventh-hour campaign of chaos, and stop using his final moments in office to obstruct bipartisan and bicameral action to protect our military and defend our security,” she said.
But activists found little consolation in the Republican defiance. Mary Small, Indivisible’s acting national policy director, said: “This is no cause for celebration. It’s sad and infuriating that the only time Republicans banded together to rebuke Trump was in pursuit of an over-militarized foreign policy and bloated defense budget and not any of the other horrifying, democracy-destroying, cruel things he has done.”
Trump blindsided Republicans again last week when he initially refused to sign a $2.3tn government funding and coronavirus relief package that had taken Congress months to negotiate. He eventually relented on Sunday night at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida, averting a government shutdown.
Trump had demanded direct stimulus payments to US citizens be increased to $2,000 as opposed to the agreed $600. On Monday the House voted 275-134 in favour of the higher sum, with 44 Republicans joining Democrats. But it is not certain whether it will even be taken up by the Senate, where again many Republicans would find themselves in the uncomfortable position of crossing Trump.
Bernie Sanders, an independent senator from Vermont, said: “The House has passed a $2,000 direct payment for working people. It is time for the Senate to act. This week on the Senate floor Mitch McConnell wants to vote to override Trump’s veto of the $740 billion defense funding bill and then head home for the New Year. I’m going to object until we get a vote on legislation to provide a $2,000 direct payment to the working class.”
Sanders, a former candidate in the Democratic presidential primary, added: “Let me be clear: If Senator McConnell doesn’t agree to an up or down vote to provide the working people of our country a $2,000 direct payment, Congress will not be going home for New Year’s Eve. Let’s do our job.”