The must-pass $740.5 billion measure has earned US President Donald Trump's ire in part because it does not abolish a law granting social media firms liability protection for third-party content on their platforms.
The Senate has approved a wide-ranging defence policy bill, sending it to President Donald Trump, despite his threat to veto the bill because it does not clamp down on big tech companies he claims were biased during the election.
The 84 -13 vote mirrored an earlier, overwhelming margin in the House, suggesting that both chambers have enough votes to override a potential veto.
The Senate vote had been expected on Thursday but was delayed after Republican Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky objected to the measure, saying it could limit Trump’s ability to draw down US troops from Afghanistan and Germany.
Congress has approved the bill, known as the National Defense Authorisation Act, for nearly 60 years in a row. The current version affirms 3 percent pay raises for US troops and authorises more than $740 billion in military programs and construction.
Trump has railed repeatedly against the law, known as Section 230, and says giants like Facebook and Google are biased against him.
Two amendments addressing troop deployment could create "535 commanders-in-chief in Congress,” Paul said, hampering the president's ability to draw down troops in Afghanistan and Germany. Democrats support the measure because they oppose Trump, Paul said, but the amendment would also apply to future presidents, including President-elect Joe Biden.
READ MORE: US withdrawal from Afghanistan needs further consideration
Dispute over tech giants
The Democratic-controlled House overwhelmingly approved the defence bill on Tuesday, defying Trump’s veto threat and setting up a possible showdown with the Republican president in the waning days of his administration.
Both chambers cleared the legislation with well beyond the two-thirds "supermajority" needed to override a presidential veto: 84 to 13 in the Senate, and a 335-78 vote on Tuesday in the House.
"This is great news for our troops and the security of our nation," Senate Armed Services Committee chairman James Inhofe said in a statement on the bill's passage.
Trump tweeted on Tuesday that he will veto “the very weak" defence bill unless it repeals Section 230, a part of the communications code that shields Twitter, Facebook and other tech giants from content liability. The White House said in a policy statement that "Section 230 facilitates the spread of disinformation online and is a serious threat to our national security and election integrity. It should be repealed.''
The dispute over social media content, a battle cry of conservatives who say the social media giants treat them unfairly, interjects an unrelated but complicated issue into a bill that Congress takes pride in having passed unfailingly for nearly 60 years. It follows Trump’s bid over the summer to sabotage the package with a veto threat over Confederate base names.
READ MORE: Weeks after election, YouTube cracks down on misinformation
I hope House Republicans will vote against the very weak National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which I will VETO. Must include a termination of Section 230 (for National Security purposes), preserve our National Monuments, & allow for 5G & troop reductions in foreign lands!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 8, 2020
Sanctions against Turkey
The measures also compel Trump to impose sanctions on Turkey for its acquisition of the Russian S-400 air defence system under what is known as the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA).
The US under Trump removed Turkey from the F-35 joint strike fighter program in 2019 over the sale, and lawmakers have continued their push for Trump to impose the penalties under CAATSA, which authorises sanctions against countries that conduct major transactions with Russia’s defence industry.
Turkey has maintained it only turned to the Russian system after it failed to reach terms during protracted negotiations with the US over the acquisition of Raytheon’s Patriot surface-to-air missile systems.
Ankara has additionally said the S-400 poses no risk to the F-35.
CAATSA presents what is essentially a “menu” of 12 choices of sanctions of varying severity for a president to select from, with the chief executive tasked with selecting five.
READ MORE: Turkey optimistic about incoming Biden administration in the US