In the next few days, President Donald Trump will have to make a decision about what to do with the National Defense Authorization Act. It’s a clunky name for a straightforward bill—it dictates how the military budget is spent—and it used to be what was known as “must-pass” legislation, because no Congress would dare fail to fund the troops, and no president would dare veto it.
But Trump has repeatedly promised to veto the bill, which was sent to him Friday by large majorities in the House and Senate, and Congress is now poised to override his veto for the first time in his presidency. That would provide a fitting bookend to the Trump years by reprising two of its central themes: pointless defenses of white supremacy, and nearly complete legislative failure.
There are other possible outcomes. Trump could veto the bill and have the veto sustained, though this seems less likely, or he could fold and sign the NDAA after all. Each of these results, though, would also underline his struggles to govern.
The president has offered several explanations for why he intends to veto the bill, despite his self-styling as a champion of the military. (As Jeffrey Goldberg has reported, his private attitudes about men and women in uniform are very different.) Most recently, he tweeted, “The biggest winner of our new defense bill is China! I will veto!” The White House could not explain what he meant, and members of Congress were puzzled by the claim. Earlier this month, Trump said he’d block the bill if Congress didn’t repeal the Section 230 protections against lawsuits for social-media companies, a frequent hobbyhorse but one that has nothing to do with the NDAA. His longest-standing and most cogent (though not persuasive) explanation is that he objects to a provision that would rename 10 Army bases that honor Confederate generals.