(Headline USA) President Donald Trump lashed out at congressional Republicans on Tuesday after the House easily voted to override his veto of a defense policy bill—one of two major congressional setbacks for the out-going GOP leader.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell also blocked Democrats’ push to immediately bring Trump’s demand for bigger $2,000 COVID-19 relief checks up for a vote, saying the chamber would “begin a process” to address the issue.
A total of 109 Republicans—including Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney, a member of GOP leadership—joined with Democrats on Monday to approve the override of the National Defense Authorization Act.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said after the House vote that lawmakers have done their part to ensure the NDAA becomes law “despite the president’s dangerous sabotage efforts.”
Trump’s “reckless veto would have denied our service members hazard-duty pay,” removed key protections for global peace and security and ”undermined our nation’s values and work to combat racism, by blocking overwhelmingly bipartisan action to rename military bases,” Pelosi said.
Trump slammed GOP lawmakers on Twitter, charging that “Weak and tired Republican ‘leadership’ will allow the bad Defense Bill to pass.″
He called the override vote a “disgraceful act of cowardice and total submission by weak people to Big Tech. Negotiate a better Bill, or get better leaders, NOW! Senate should not approve NDAA until fixed!!!″
The House vote late Monday was a stunning turn of events. Just days ago, during a brief Christmas Eve session, Republicans blocked Trump’s sudden demand for bigger checks as he defiantly refused to sign the broader COVID-19 aid and year-end funding bill into law.
The 322-87 vote in the House sends the override effort to the Senate, where the exact timing of a vote is uncertain.
If the Senate, which is expected to consider the measure later this week, were to follow suit with a two-thirds majority, it would be the first such override of Trump’s presidency.
McConnell said Tuesday that approval of the $740 billion NDAA is crucial to the nation’s defense and to “deter great-power rivals like China and Russia.”
The bill “will cement our advantage on the seas, on land, in the air, in cyberspace and in space,” McConnell said. The bill also provides a 3% pay raise for U.S. troops, improvements for military housing, child care and more, McConnell said.
“For the brave men and women of the United States Armed Forces, failure is not an option. So when it is our turn in Congress to have their backs, failure is not an option here either,” he said.
Meanwhile, McConnell was also forestalling a measure promoted by the president to approve larger coronavirus stimulus checks.
Trump recently signed the deeply-flawed omnibus stimulus bill but invoked the Impoundment Act to transmit a “special message” urging Congress to fix it.
Pressure is now mounting on the Republican-led Senate to follow the House, which voted overwhelmingly on Monday to meet the president’s demand.
Dozens of House Republicans calculated it was better to link with Democrats to increase the pandemic payments rather than buck the outgoing president and constituents counting on the money. House Democrats led passage, 275-134, but 44 Republicans joined almost all Democrats for a robust two-thirds vote of approval.
Trump repeated his demand in a tweet ahead of Tuesday’s Senate session: ”$2000 for our great people, not $600!”
A growing number of Senate Republicans, including two senators in runoff elections on Jan. 5 in Georgia—David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler—have said they will support the larger amount.
“I’m delighted to support the president,” said Perdue on Fox News. Loeffler said in an interview on Fox that she, too, backs the boosted relief checks.
But most oppose more spending, even if they are also wary of bucking Trump.
“There’s one question left today: Do Senate Republicans join with the rest of America in supporting $2,000 checks?” Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer said as he made a motion to vote.
The showdown has thrown Congress into a chaotic year-end session just days before new lawmakers are set to be sworn into office for the new year.
The president’s last-minute push for bigger checks deeply divides Republicans, who are split between those who align with Trump’s populist instincts and those who adhere to what had been more traditional conservative views against government spending.
Congress had settled on smaller $600 payments in a compromise over the big year-end relief bill Trump reluctantly signed into law.
Liberal senators led by Bernie Sanders of Vermont who support the relief aid are helping to block action on the defense bill until a vote can be taken on the stimulus checks.
“The working class of this country today faces more economic desperation than at any time since the Great Depression of the 1930s,” Sanders said. “Working families need help now.”
The socialist leader also tried to force a vote on the relief checks. But McConnell objected a second time.
“Let me be clear: If Sen. 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,” Sanders said. “Let’s do our job.”
The GOP blockade may not be sustainable in the face of Trump’s demands and as senators face the constituents at home.
Following Trump’s lead, Republican Sens. Josh Hawley of Missouri and Marco Rubio of Florida, among the party’s potential 2024 presidential hopefuls, are pushing the party in the president’s direction.
“We’ve got the votes. Let’s vote today,” Hawley tweeted.
McConnell, who has said little publicly on Trump’s request, objected to the increase, but the Senate leader gave almost no indication of his plans ahead.
“The Senate will begin a process,” McConnell said. He said he plans to bring the president’s demand for the $2,000 checks and other remaining issues “into focus.”
McConnell is expected to be devising a way out of the bind, perhaps incorporating two other issues Trump raised Sunday as he ultimately signed the massive package into law: measures to address vote fraud during the Nov. 3 election, and a repeal of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which allows social media companies to avoid regulation.
“Those are the three important subjects the president has linked together,” McConnell said.
Trump’s push could fizzle out in the Senate and do little to change the COVID-19 relief and federal spending package Trump signed into law.
But the debate over the size and scope of the package — $900 billion in COVID-19 aid and $1.4 trillion to fund government agencies — is potentially one last confrontation between the president and the Republican Party.
The new Congress is set to be sworn in Sunday.
For now, the $600 checks are set to be delivered, along with other aid, among the largest rescue packages of its kind.
The COVID-19 portion of the bill revives a weekly pandemic jobless benefit boost — this time $300, through March 14 — as well as the popular Paycheck Protection Program of grants to businesses to keep workers on payrolls. It extends eviction protections, adding a new rental assistance fund.
Americans earning up to $75,000 will qualify for the direct $600 payments, which are phased out at higher income levels, and there’s an additional $600 payment per dependent child.
Adapted from reporting by the Associated Press