Donald Trump has vetoed the annual US defence spending bill worth $740bn, setting up yet another clash in Congress, where leading Republicans and Democrats have already vowed to override any attempt by the president to torpedo the legislation.
Mr Trump on Wednesday told Congress that he would not sign the National Defense Authorization Act because it “contradicts efforts by my administration to put America first in our national security and foreign policy actions”.
The move sets the stage for Congress to override a veto from Mr Trump for the first time after the measure passed with more than the two-thirds majority in each house of Congress required to block the president.
In following through on an earlier veto pledge, Mr Trump rebuked lawmakers for not including language to repeal a measure in another law — known as Section 230 — that provides social media companies with legal protection in relation to content posted by people on their platforms.
After losing the presidential election to Joe Biden, Mr Trump has increasingly made the baseless claim that technology companies helped engineer his loss.
“Your failure to terminate the very dangerous national security risk of Section 230 will make our intelligence virtually impossible to conduct without everyone knowing what we are doing at every step,” Mr Trump wrote in a letter to the House of Representatives, which served as formal notification of his veto.
And the president criticised a measure that required the Pentagon to rename military bases that were named after Confederate generals who are associated with supporting slavery, which was one of the responses to the killing of George Floyd this year.
“I oppose endless wars, as does the American public. Over bipartisan objections . . . this act purports to restrict the president’s ability to withdraw troops from Afghanistan, Germany, and South Korea,” he wrote on Wednesday, which marked the final day he could veto the bill before it became law. “Not only is this bad policy, but it is unconstitutional.”
The Democratically-controlled House of Representatives has already signalled it would vote to override the veto. Mitch McConnell, the Republican Senate majority leader, has also stressed that his caucus would block the president.
Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic speaker of the House, said: “The president’s veto of the National Defense Authorization Act is an act of staggering recklessness that harms our troops, endangers our security and undermines the will of the bipartisan congress.”
Mark Warner, a Democratic senator from Virginia who is vice-chair of the senate intelligence committee, wrote on Twitter: “I look forward to overriding this ridiculous attempt to undermine our national security.”
The legislation is considered a “must pass” because it pays the salaries of the American armed forces, and few lawmakers want to risk being associated with efforts to block military pay, particularly before the holidays.
After a historic 2020 election, stay on top of the biggest themes driving US politics, business and markets from Washington, New York and beyond with Rana Foroohar and Edward Luce. Sign up here
The defence legislation veto is one of several moves made by Mr Trump in the waning days of his presidency that has sparked chaos on Capitol Hill before Christmas. He has also rejected the $900bn pandemic-related economic stimulus bill that passed earlier this week after months of haggling, even though it was supported by his own negotiators.
The president also courted criticism on Tuesday by issuing 15 pardons, including to two people connected with the Russia investigation that was led by Robert Mueller, in addition to two former Republican lawmakers. Mr Trump also pardoned four men who killed a number of unarmed Iraqi civilians in Baghdad while working as private security guards for Blackwater, a private security group.
With less than one month before he must vacate the White House, Mr Trump has also refused to publicly acknowledge that he lost to Mr Biden. In recent days, he has met in the Oval Office with lawyers and allies who have pushed unfounded conspiracy theories about election fraud and suggested he should impose military law to rerun the election.
Follow Demetri Sevastopulo on Twitter