The U.S. Senate has voted to override President Donald Trump's veto of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), a major national security bill worth $740 billion, handing him his first major rebuke 20 days before he leaves office.
Republican lawmakers have largely stood by the president during his turbulent four years in the White House. Since losing his reelection bid in November, 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 reconvened midday to take up the $740 billion National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which Trump refused to sign into law because it does not repeal certain legal protections for tech companies.
Senators are expected to cast the first of two procedural votes aimed at overriding Trump's veto after the House of Representatives successfully voted to overturn it on Monday. If that succeeds, the Senate would then hold a second procedural vote followed by a final vote on passage before ending its session Saturday.
"Here’s what the Senate is focused on: completing the annual defense legislation that looks after our brave men and women who volunteer to wear the uniform," Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell said. "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."
The move comes ahead of next Tuesday's U.S. Senate runoff elections in Georgia that will determine whether Republicans maintain control of the chamber.
Georgia's two U.S. senators, Republicans Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue, have positioned themselves as strong supporters of the military and as staunch Trump allies, although Perdue is likely to miss the vote after quarantining himself following contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19.
Democrats, who in an unusual alignment with Trump welcomed his call for $2,000 direct relief payments, had hoped to use the NDAA to force a swift vote on a bill authorizing the checks, which would give Americans more than the $600 coming now. Some Republicans also back larger payouts. Senator Bernie Sanders, an independent who caucuses with the Democrats, pressed the issue again on Friday.
But McConnell so far has quashed the effort, instead of tying larger checks to a competing bill with social media and election provisions that Democrats are sure to reject with little time left for maneuvering before the next Congress is sworn in on Sunday.
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.
"Weak and tired Republican 'leadership' will allow the bad Defense Bill to pass," he said in a string of tweets this week, adding: "Unless Republicans have a death wish ... they must approve the $2000 payments ASAP!"
Republican tensions are also rising over some conservatives' plan to object next Wednesday when the new Congress officially tallies the Electoral College votes to certify Democrat Joe Biden's presidential victory before he is sworn in on Jan. 20.
McConnell, who publicly acknowledged Biden's win, on Thursday raised questions in a call with his caucus over fellow Republican Senator Josh Hawley's plan to object, according to media reports. At least 140 Republicans in the House are expected to launch similar objections despite Congress' largely ceremonial role, CNN reported.
Representatives for McConnell did not respond to a Reuters query seeking comment on the planned maneuvers, which could trigger a lengthy Senate debate but have no chance of overturning the results.