President Donald Trump suffered a stinging rebuke in the U.S. Senate when fellow Republicans joined Democrats to override a presidential veto for the first time in his tenure, pushing through a defense policy bill he opposed just weeks before he leaves office.
Meeting in a rare New Year’s Day session, senators voted 81-13 to secure the two-thirds majority needed to override the veto. Eight previous Trump vetoes had been upheld.
The Senate also ended for now a push by Democrats to increase COVID-19 financial relief checks from $600 to $2,000, a change sought by Trump. Senator Bernie Sanders again joined Democrats in a bid to force a vote on higher payments, only to be blocked by Republicans.
Republican lawmakers have largely stood by the president during his turbulent White House term.
Since losing his re-election bid in November, however, Trump has lashed out at them for not fully backing his unsupported claims of voter fraud, for rejecting his demand for bigger COVID-19 relief checks, and for moving to override his veto.
The Democratic-controlled House of Representatives on Monday voted to override the veto. A president has the power to veto a bill passed by Congress, but lawmakers can uphold the bill if two-thirds of both houses vote to override the veto.
The $740 billion National Defense Authorization Act determines everything from how many ships are bought to soldiers’ pay and how to address geopolitical threats.
Trump refused to sign it into law because it did not repeal certain legal protections for social media platforms and included a provision stripping the names of Confederate generals from military bases.
“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,” Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell had said ahead of the vote.
Until Friday’s vote, Trump had been on track to be the first president since Lyndon Johnson with no vetoes overridden.
The bill also overhauls anti-money laundering rules and banning anonymous shell companies, a victory for law enforcement and rights groups which have long sought changes to make it easier to police illicit money flows.
The vote could have implications for two U.S. Senate runoff elections in Georgia on Tuesday that will decide control of the chamber under Democratic President-elect Joe Biden, who takes office on Jan. 20. The senators facing a runoff, Republicans David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler, strongly back both Trump and the military.
But neither Perdue nor Loeffler voted on Friday. Neither did another staunch Trump ally, Senator Lindsey Graham. Perdue entered quarantine this week after contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19. Spokesmen for Loeffler and Graham did not respond to requests seeking comment.