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Trump Wants To Use Defense Bill To Dismantle Legal Protections For Tech Companies


While Congress remains mostly divided over how to pass more coronavirus relief, both houses have signaled they agree on another complicated piece of legislation - the massive annual defense bill. It includes everything from plans on boosting troop levels to military housing improvements. But President Trump has threatened to veto the bill if it doesn't dismantle a legal protection for tech companies. To tell us more, we're joined by NPR congressional reporter Claudia Grisales. Hi, Claudia.


SHAPIRO: Why does President Trump want lawmakers to include this tech company provision in the defense bill?

GRISALES: Trump claims this provision - it's known as Section 230 in the Communications Decency Act - is a threat to national security. It provides a liability shield for tech companies from content by third-party users. And the president has been hung up on this assertion that tech companies are biased against him and shouldn't get these protections. Today, he reiterated his demand, saying that, quote, "certain Republican senators are getting cold feet," but we've been hard pressed to find any who support him on this.

We should note, this is pretty late in the game to try and include this in the bill, which is known as the National Defense Authorization Act. And there's a lot at stake here. This massive legislation sets policy for the Pentagon and military service members, one that, because of its size and importance, passes overwhelmingly nearly every year.

SHAPIRO: And so what are lawmakers, especially Senate Republicans, saying about President Trump's veto threat?

GRISALES: By and large, members are balking at his demands. Oklahoma Republican Senator Jim Inhofe, who chairs the Armed Services Committee, told reporters that he talked to Trump and told him, it's not going to happen. Let's take a listen.

JIM INHOFE: It just doesn't fit on the NDAA. It has nothing to do with military, nothing to do with the issue.

GRISALES: Inhofe told me his conversation with the president was, quote, "difficult." But lawmakers are moving full steam ahead with this bill and not including the provision. And again, he noted, if they do include it, they won't have a bill, with both chambers planning to vote on it before they leave for the holidays.

SHAPIRO: So how likely is it that this bill will become law this month? And what happens if not?

GRISALES: It's a good sign here at the Capitol that lawmakers have already signed off on the final version of the bill that will go before both chambers. That said, Trump remains a wild card here. He's now threatened to veto this bill twice. In June, he went after Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren for spearheading a provision that would end the use of Confederate names and symbols at certain military bases and installations. And the bills passed earlier this year had this provision, and Inhofe and others have told us it's still in there.

I talked to one of the members of the House Armed Services Committee, Democrat Ruben Gallego of Arizona, about this. Let's take a listen.

RUBEN GALLEGO: I feel very confident it will pass the House and the Senate. It's really now up to the president if he wants to deny millions of members of our armed forces a pay increase.

GRISALES: And that's not all that's at stake. This year's bill also boosts troop levels and equipment. It addresses some military housing concerns. And there's billions in construction projects. So if Trump makes good on this veto threat, it'll be up to Congress on whether they'll have enough votes to override it. In July, when they first passed this bill, they were within that range of the supermajority's approving this legislation. So it's possible they could override any veto. If not, the military will still get its money, but this is a policy bill, and they would have to start all over again under a new administration. And they would break a 60-year streak if they can't get it through.

SHAPIRO: That's NPR congressional reporter Claudia Grisales. Thank you.

GRISALES: Thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Claudia Grisales is a congressional reporter assigned to NPR's Washington Desk.