McConnell to Call for Defense Bill Vote Despite Trump Veto Threat

McConnell to Call for Defense Bill Vote Despite Trump Veto Threat
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) holds a news conference after the Senate Republican Policy luncheon on Capitol Hill in Washington on Dec. 1, 2020. (Tom Williams/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)
Tom Ozimek

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said Monday that the Senate will consider the the $740 billion National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) despite President Donald Trump's threat to veto the bill if it doesn't terminate special protections for social media platforms.

Speaking on the Senate floor, McConnell listed the mammoth defense bill, which is approved by Congress every year to fund the Department of Defense and the national security programs of the Department of Energy, as one of the remaining legislative items that will be taken up before Congress wraps up for the year.

"We also expect to receive and pass a conference report on the annual defense authorization," McConnell said about the defense bill.

Trump said in a Dec. 1 tweet that he would scuttle the defense bill if it doesn't include a termination of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which shields social media companies from liability for most content posted on their platforms while still letting them moderate it.

The Trump administration has been vocal about the need to change Section 230, arguing that it would force Internet companies to manage and moderate content on their platforms responsibly and fairly. They have accused online platforms such as Facebook and Twitter of engaging in censorship of certain viewpoints.

A combined image shows Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg (L) and Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, as they testify remotely before Congress on Oct. 28, 2020. (Michael Reynolds/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)
A combined image shows Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg (L) and Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, as they testify remotely before Congress on Oct. 28, 2020. (Michael Reynolds/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

There has been opposition to Section 230 from both sides of the partisan divide, with Democrats often arguing it allows tech companies to get away with not being stringent enough about policing objectionable content, like so-called hate speech and harassment, while Republicans typically argue it lets tech firms moderate content arbitrarily, suppressing conservative voices and stifling free speech. Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle have signaled their intent to reform the law, but so far little has happened to change the status quo.

McConnell, who did not address Trump's threat to veto the defense bill, also said the Senate would consider a one-week stopgap funding bill to avert a government shutdown later this week, a broad $1.4 trillion spending bill known as the Omnibus Spending Bill, and urged Congress to complete work on a new COVID-19 relief package.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and McConnell both hope to attach long-awaited COVID-19 relief to the omnibus, but they have been at loggerheads over the size and content of the relief measures. McConnell has pushed a relief bill of around $500 billion, while a bipartisan proposal emerged last week totaling $908 billion, which Pelosi has embraced as a basis for talks, abandoning the Democrats' months-long insistence on at least double that amount.

A group of House and Senate lawmakers had been expected as early as Monday to issue a text of the bipartisan COVID-19 aid bill, but lawmakers and their staffs failed to finalize it over the weekend. They were stalled on provisions to help state and local governments, which Democrats want, and protect businesses from coronavirus-related lawsuits, a top Republican priority.

"We have seen some hopeful signs of engagement from our Democratic colleagues. But we have no reason to think the underlying disagreements about policy are going to evaporate overnight," McConnell said on the Senate floor.

Arguing for a "targeted" Republican aid package, McConnell said lawmakers agree on three points—extending unemployment benefits, helping small businesses and funding vaccines. He said lawmakers should “make law in the many places where we have common ground” and drop other demands.

"The nation needs our Democratic colleagues to resist the temptation to play brinkmanship with long-settled policy issues or push poison pill riders that they know would tank the process," McConnell said of unsettled differences between Democrats and Republicans regarding the relief bill.

In a letter to House Democrats, Pelosi said negotiations were "making progress," while White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow sounded a cautiously optimistic note in an interview with The Washington Post.

"We are moving in the right direction, I think," Kudlow said. "We are getting closer."

Lawmakers enacted $3 trillion in aid earlier this year but have not been able to agree on fresh relief since April.

Reuters contributed to this report.
Tom Ozimek is a senior reporter for The Epoch Times. He has a broad background in journalism, deposit insurance, marketing and communications, and adult education.