Donald Trump has doubled down on his threat to a major $740bn defence spending bill even though US intelligence and security agencies have warned that a sweeping cyber attack on the government and companies is “ongoing”.
The National Defense Authorization Act passed both chambers of Congress with bipartisan support earlier this month, after lawmakers refused to cave in to the president’s demands for the legislation to remove legal protections from social media companies.
Mr Trump reiterated on Thursday that he would use his presidential veto power to reject the bill, a key piece of legislation that specifies the funding of the US defence department.
“I will Veto the Defense Bill, which will make China very unhappy,” Mr Trump said on Twitter.
Mr Trump’s tweet on Thursday came just hours after the FBI, the director of national intelligence and the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency said in a statement that they had formed a task force to respond to a sophisticated attack, which they described as a “significant and ongoing cyber security campaign”.
“This is a developing situation, and while we continue to work to understand the full extent of this campaign, we know this compromise has affected networks within the federal government,” the agencies said late on Wednesday.
Thomas Bossert, a former homeland security adviser to Mr Trump, said in an opinion piece published in the New York Times on Wednesday that the NDAA was a “must-sign piece of legislation”, especially in light of the ongoing attack.
“Among other important provisions, the act would authorise the Department of Homeland Security to perform network hunting in federal networks,” he said.
Mr Trump has 10 days from the legislation’s passage, excluding Sundays, to either sign or veto the bill, or it will become law without his approval. The NDAA passed on December 11, meaning that Mr Trump will have to make a final decision before Christmas.
The president on Thursday repeated a list of demands he has made to Congress for measures he wants to see in the defence bill: “Must have Section 230 termination, protect our National Monuments and allow for removal of military from far away, and very unappreciative, lands,” he added.
Mr Trump’s rejection of the legislation will be symbolic because the bill passed both chambers of Congress with a “veto-proof” supermajority of more than two-thirds. The Republican-controlled Senate voted 84-13 to approve the legislation last week, after it sailed through the House of Representatives, which is controlled by Democrats.
The president has long taken issue with the Communications Decency Act, known as Section 230, which guarantees immunity for social media companies from being prosecuted for libellous content posted by their users. Mr Trump has throughout his presidency taken aim at social media companies like Facebook and Twitter, arguing that they are biased against him and fellow conservatives.
While the NDAA is ostensibly intended to fund the US military, the president has seen the legislation as one of his last opportunities to hit social media companies.
The president has also objected to language in the legislation that would force the Pentagon to rename military bases named after Confederate generals. In the wake of George Floyd’s killing and the Black Lives Matter movement, many Americans have called for changes to the names of military bases, statues and other public facilities that commemorate those who supported slavery in the 18th and 19th centuries.