Stefanik backs defense bill despite Trump veto threat

Rep. Elise Stefanik speaks on stage with former President Donald Trump in August 2018 at the Fort Drum Army base near Watertown, where Trump signed a federal defense bill. (Provided photo — Daytona Niles, Watertown Daily Times)

WATERTOWN — The 2021 National Defense Authorization Act is one step closer to becoming law, after passing the House on Tuesday.

But President Donald Trump has threatened to veto the bill, which authorizes the military budget annually. The NDAA has passed Congress and has been signed into law every year without fail since the 1960s.

When the first version of the bill passed the House in July, the president threatened to veto the final version if it still included a clause requiring the U.S. Department of Defense to rename bases that bear the name of Confederate figures. In recent weeks, Trump has reiterated his veto threats, now because the NDAA does not include a repeal or rewrite of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which protects the hosts of online forums and social media companies from legal responsibility for what users say on their platforms.

The president’s veto threat drew a divide in House Republicans.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., has indicated he would not vote to override a veto, and members of the Freedom Caucus, a 40-member strong coalition of conservative Republican representatives, voted against the bill on Tuesday.

Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-Schuylerville, has spoken in support of the 2021 NDAA since it first passed through the House Armed Services Committee, of which she’s a member, over the summer. Despite the initial veto threats in June, Stefanik said she was confident Congress would negotiate a strong, bipartisan bill that would be signed into law by Trump. Stefanik also served as a core member of the conference committee tasked with consolidating the Senate and House versions of the annual defense bill into a single piece of legislation.

On Thursday, Stefanik reiterated her support for the NDAA and said she would vote to override a presidential veto if necessary.

Stefanik also said she agrees that Section 230 needs to be repealed or amended, but it must be afforded due legislative process.

“There is great concern among voters in this district that the tech companies are censoring conservative viewpoints, and are not respecting the constitutional liberties and freedom of speech,” she said. “However, that should not be attached to the National Defense Authorization Act; that process needs to move through the committees of jurisdiction.”

Despite the threat of a veto, the NDAA passed the House, 335 to 78 — well above the three-fourths majority required to override a veto. While the Senate has not yet scheduled a vote on the final version of the defense bill, it’s expected to pass that chamber by a wide margin as well. The initial version of the bill passed the Senate 84 to 14 in July.

Stefanik said she’s proud of all the positive results the NDAA will bring to the north country, and Fort Drum specifically. The congresswoman said she’s seen significant improvement in the amount of support afforded to the military since 2014.

“When I took office, the DOD and the military (were) facing significant cuts, and we have worked over many years to rebuild military readiness to make sure that the resources and the funding is available for training, for equipment and for overall installation management at Fort Drum,” Stefanik said.

She said she was also proud to see that the final version of the bill continues to include a 3% pay increase for soldiers in all branches of the military, and includes investment in cybersecurity and artificial intelligence.

Stefanik has been vocal about her work in ensuring that Fort Drum is selected as the site for a future missile defense program. Initially, Fort Drum was selected as the site for the proposed East Coast Missile Defense System in a 2019 environmental impact study. Although the DOD expressed little interest in developing such a system at the time, it has since shifted focus to developing a smaller, underlayer defense system.

Stefanik said in July she worked to ensure the development of that underlayer system would rely on the same environmental impact study that named Fort Drum as the preferred site in 2019. She said the prospects for the project actually being built are dependent on the budget proposed by President-elect Joseph Biden’s administration, but she remains committed to ensuring the federal government invests more in missile defense.

“The good news is, I have worked to build bipartisan support for increasing our missile defense investment and increasing our missile defense capability, including protecting the East Coast,” she said.

Stefanik said Biden’s past record on military investment, especially as part of former President Barack Obama administration’s cuts and sequestration, does concern her. She said she would continue to fight in Congress to ensure the federal government supports defense.

“I am concerned that the legacy of the Obama administration was cutting our defense. We don’t want to see that, particularly as we face challenges around the world today,” she said. “But I know that I am going to fight on this committee to advance our missile defense, which ultimately will give us the best opportunity at funding for an East Coast Missile Defense system.”


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