Senate overrides Trump veto of $740bn defence bill

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Republicans in the Senate have broken overwhelmingly from Donald Trump, rebuffing the outgoing US president’s attempt to veto this year’s $740bn defence spending bill and adding to growing acrimony ahead of next week’s congressional meeting to confirm the outcome of the election.

The motion to override Mr Trump’s presidential veto passed 81-13 with strong bipartisan support on Friday, easily surpassing the requisite two-thirds majority and marking the first such defeat of Mr Trump’s presidency.

The House of Representatives already voted for the veto override on Monday, making Friday’s Senate vote the final hurdle for the bill to become law.

Mr Trump has unsuccessfully battled his own party in recent days over widespread Republican support for the defence legislation, his party’s refusal to endorse higher direct stimulus cheques and lukewarm support for Mr Trump’s unfounded claims of voting fraud amid his refusal to concede the presidential election

The president had vetoed the annual National Defense Authorization Act over his demands to strip legal protections from social media companies — contained in another law — and drop a provision to removing the names of confederate generals from US army bases. This week he blamed “weak and tired Republican ‘leadership’” for allowing the bill to pass.

Following Friday afternoon’s vote, Mr Trump described the Republican-controlled Senate as “pathetic” in a tweet that blamed senators for upholding the “unlimited power” of big tech companies.

Yet his veto effort found unlikely support from some progressive Democrats who had sought to make enacting the defence bill, which includes the entire military’s pay packet and is seen as must-pass annual legislation, conditional on bringing to the floor a vote to award $2,000 direct stimulus cheques that Mr Trump also supported.

Bernie Sanders, a leading progressive senator who has fought for higher direct stimulus cheques, was among the clutch of senators who voted against overriding Mr Trump’s veto on Friday. Others included Democratic senators Elizabeth Warren and Cory Booker. 

But moderate Democrats effectively sided with Republican leaders. Among Republican opponents of the bill were Trump loyalists including Tom Cotton, Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley.

“This vote was undoubtedly a bipartisan rebuke of President Trump,” said Jack Reed, the top Democrat on the Senate armed services committee, in a statement following the vote, adding Mr Trump had “badly miscalculated” his opposition to the provision to rename bases named after historic confederate leaders, some of whom owned slaves and are viewed by many in the military as traitors. 

“Racism has no place in the ranks,” the senator from Rhode Island added, saying the provision had earned strong bipartisan support as well as backing from Mr Trump’s top civilian advisers and from within the military.

Mr Reed’s Republican counterpart, Jim Inhofe, the Oklahoma senator who chairs the same committee, said he was glad the Senate voted for the bill by a wide bipartisan margin. “Today the Senate sent a strong message of support to our troops,” he said in a statement. 

Mitch McConnell, the Republican Senate majority leader who has distanced himself from key Trump positions in recent days, earlier praised the bill and urged senators to pass the legislation, calling it “a serious responsibility”.

“It’s our chance to ensure we keep pace with competitors like Russia and China,” he said, citing efforts to invest in the military in order to ensure it was “equipped to outmatch any adversary”.

Mr Trump’s influence over his party appears to be dwindling ahead of an official congressional session due on Wednesday to confirm the results of November’s elections, which Mr Trump has yet to concede despite losing. Some members of Congress are siding with Mr Trump but it is unlikely they can overturn the result.

The political fate of the Senate still hangs in the balance ahead of Tuesday’s run-off votes for two Georgia seats, however. The results will determine whether Democrats can wrest control of the Senate from Republicans, which is possibly only if they win both seats. Mr Trump is due to visit Georgia on Monday for a final campaign push.