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Senate Overrides Trump's NDAA Veto

Jan 1, 2021
Originally published on January 3, 2021 1:49 pm
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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

The Senate started 2021 by overriding for the first time a veto from President Trump. Lawmakers overwhelmingly voted to finalize the massive defensive spending bill despite the president's objection to it. In the waning weeks of Trump's presidency, Republicans have been forced to decide whether to back the outgoing leader of their party or stick to the policies they've traditionally supported. And they've been forced to confront everything from the coronavirus relief and Internet regulations to defense spending and the outcome of the 2020 election, all as balance of power is still to be decided in a pair of runoff elections in Georgia. NPR congressional correspondent Kelsey Snell joins us now. And, Kelsey, I want to start with that defense bill, usually a bipartisan affair - right? - something Congress does every year. So how did they get there?

KELSEY SNELL, BYLINE: You know, it's not just bipartisan. It is passed with huge support every year for roughly 60 years. You know, Trump vetoed the bill in a fight over something completely unrelated. That's a piece of decades-old law that involves liability protections that social media companies use to avoid lawsuits over content shared on their platforms. You know, Republicans were just not willing to join Trump on this fight, particularly over this defense bill, and they abandoned him on it. This is the first veto override of his presidency, and it happened with an absolutely huge margin.

CORNISH: I want to talk about the election for a bit because Missouri Senator Josh Hawley says he plans to object when Congress officially counts the electoral votes on January 6. How will that play out?

SNELL: So Hawley is saying he's speaking up for people who feel disenfranchised. And he's basing this off of baseless claims of voter fraud that have been disputed by numerous agencies, including Attorney General William Barr. He and at least one House Republican are coming together on this, and other Republicans plan to object and are filing longshot lawsuits to try to interfere. But most Republicans say these efforts undermine faith in the election and in democracy. Here's how Utah Senator Mitt Romney, who ran for president in 2012, described it to reporters on Capitol Hill.

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SNELL: It continues to spread the false rumor that somehow the election was stolen. Look. I lost in 2012. I know what it's like to lose. And there were people that said there are irregularities. I have people today who say, hey, you know what, you really won - but I didn't.

CORNISH: Given the objections, even within the GOP, do the naysayers have a chance of changing the outcome of the election?

SNELL: No. Republican leaders have repeatedly, repeatedly warned that forcing a vote on this is actually damaging to every Republican because they'll be forced to publicly vote to split with President Trump, who is still quite popular with many, many Republicans. If Hawley objects, he will force an additional debate and additional votes. But in the end, virtually everyone in the Capitol agrees that the election result will be affirmed.

CORNISH: Stepping back a bit, President Trump has been at odds with his GOP allies the last couple of weeks in many other ways. I mean, what could this consequential runoff election in Georgia mean for him next week?

SNELL: You know, voting to override the veto was the Senate's last act before Senators David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler faced runoff elections in Georgia on January 5. Those races will determine the control of the Senate. That is very consequential. And Trump is tweeting today encouraging primaries against the No. 2 GOP leader in the Senate and complaining about the Senate in general.

Lisa Murkowski of Alaska had a really interesting way of explaining it. She told reporters in the Capitol that Trump is pitting Republicans against each other. She says it's dispiriting and that Trump sets up loyalty tests only to throw loyal people under the bus. You know, this has caused Republicans to reverse themselves several times and they've had to scramble their messaging over and over. This last-minute infighting is just bad for Senate Republicans no matter how you cut it.

CORNISH: That's NPR congressional correspondent Kelsey Snell. Thank you for your reporting.

SNELL: Thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.