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Furious Trump slams Senator Inhofe for not adding repeal of Section 230 to Defense bill; threatens VETO

President Donald Trump doubled down on his veto threat despite Republican senators warning him the defense bill was not the place to negotiate tech policy. Bloomberg via Getty Images

By Emily Goodin

Senior U.S. Political Reporter

President Donald Trump is furious a Republican senator will not add a repeal of Section 230 to the defense bill, saying it’s ‘so bad for our national security and integrity’.

Republican Senator James Inhofe, the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee called President Trump to tell him the defense will won’t contain a provision to repeal certain legal protections for tech companies

On Thursday night, the President tweeted: ‘Very sadly for our Nation, it looks like Senator @JimInhofe will not be putting the Section 230 termination clause into the Defense Bill. So bad for our National Security and Election Integrity. Last chance to ever get it done. I will VETO!’

Section 230 of the 1996 Communications Decency Act gives tech companies blanket protection from being sued over content on their social media platforms.

The President and his allies have called for Section 230 to be repealed repeatedly, claiming that it unfairly discriminates against conservatives, with Trump pushing for its repeal to be included in the billion dollar legislation that funds the Pentagon.

Trump’s late-night tweet came after Republican Senator Jim Inhofe put Trump on speakerphone earlier this week to tell him he can’t veto the crucial defense bill that contains a pay raise for the troops, but the president doubled down on his threat anyway.

Inhofe, the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, told the president the defense bill won’t contain his demand to take away certain liability protection for tech companies.

In a conversation on speakerphone as he walked through the Russell Senate Office Building on Wednesday, Inhofe told Trump the bill must pass, Axios reported.

The National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) has been signed into law by the reigning president for decades, and on Wednesday bipartisan lawmakers indicated there were ready to move forward with the legislation without the 230 repeal.

Trump reiterated his veto threat Thursday morning.

‘Looks like certain Republican Senators are getting cold feet with respect to the termination of Big Tech’s Section 230, a National Security and Election Integrity MUST. For years, all talk, no action. Termination must be put in Defense Bill!!!,’ he tweeted.

But his veto threats did not affect the legislation. Inhofe released the text of the final bill on Thursday night and it said nothing of section 230.

A number of Trump’s posts on Twitter and Facebook have been censored or labelled as misleading or for spreading false information this year, particularly when the President has shared unfounded claims of election fraud.

Several Republican senators said Wednesday they agree with the president that Section 230 should be reformed, but they don’t think the NDAA is the place to do it.

Section 230 has nothing to do with the defense bill – it is part of the 1996 Communications Decency Act.

Trump’s threat comes as Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell and Speaker Nancy Pelosi are preparing to move the NDAA in their respective chambers without any mention of section 230.

It does contain, however, a bipartisan provision – disliked by the president – that allows military bases named for Confederate heroes to be renamed. 

The move essentially dares Trump to veto the billion-dollar legislation that funds the Pentagon.

Lawmakers are ready to pass the NDAA so they can move on to funding the government – which runs out on December 11 – and passing additional COVID relief legislation.

The House and Senate have passed their own versions of the defense bill – votes that had a veto-proof majority: the House by a vote of 295 to 125 and the Senate by 86 to 14.

It then went to conference, where members of the House and Senate negotiated the final language. Inhofe, as armed services chairman, led the process.  

With the negotiations completed the defense bill is likely to be voted on early  next week. 

White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said the president is ‘serious’ about his veto threat in her briefing on Wednesday.

‘He is going to put pressure on Congress to step on this,’ she said of reforming legal protections for tech companies. 

A few Republican senators issued public warnings to the president on Wednesday that the defense bill was no place to make a tech fight.

Inhofe was one of those.

‘We ought to do away with 230. But you can’t do it in this bill. That’s not a part of the bill,’ he told reporters on Capitol Hill.

Top Republican Senator John Thune, a member of the leadership in the Senate, agreed with Trump that section 230 needed reform but told CNN: ‘I don’t think the defense bill is the place to litigate that.’

It would take a two-thirds vote in both chambers of Congress to over ride a Trump veto.

One Republican congressman already said he would vote to over ride a presidential veto, which, if happens, would be the first time Trump had a veto overridden by Congress.

‘I will vote to override. Because it’s really not about you,’ tweeted Rep. Adam Kinzinger of Illinois, who frequently disagrees with the president. 

Trump issued his veto threat late Tuesday night as part of his war against social media companies.

Some congressional aides have expressed skepticism the president would actually veto the crucial legislation, suggesting Trump’s threats were his way of try to influence the negotiations on the final legislation being worked out in conference.

Language changing section 230 could be dropped in the defense legislation but it’s unlikely to happen without congressional hearings or additional input from lawmakers.

One Democratic senator said he agreed that changes need to be made to section 230 but said it needs to be done through hearings and separate legislation – not the defense bill. He charged Trump with really being angry about the Confederate bases.

‘I have written a bipartisan bill to reform section 230 but the idea that it should be repealed, with no hearing, in the defense bill, is goofy. You will know who is serious about policy making in this space by whether or not they reflexively agree w Trump here,’ wrote Democratic Senator Brian Schatz of Hawaii on Twitter.

‘It’s not Section 230. It’s the confederate named bases. That’s why the President is threatening to veto the NDAA,’ he noted.

And Democratic Congressman Adam Smith, the powerful chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, charged Trump with issuing the veto threat because ‘you’re mad at Twitter.’

‘To be clear, Mr. President, Section 230 repeal wasn’t included in the House OR Senate version of the NDAA. You’re mad at Twitter. We all know it. You’re willing to veto the defense bill over something that has everything to do with your ego, and nothing to do with defense,’ he tweeted.

Democratic Senator Ron Wyden said of Trump’s threat: ‘I’d like to start for the Blazers, but that’s not going to happen either. ‘

The $740 billion legislation sets defense priorities for the coming year, including a pay raise for service members and funding for female-specific uniforms and body armor, which doesn’t yet exist.

In addition to funding the typical defense needs of the military, this year’s legislation also has several quality of life provisions for service members and their families, including funding to support education for military children with special needs whose families have to frequently change school districts.

Trump has bragged about his work for the military. Part of his stump speech is his claim that he got them their first pay raise in 10 years, which is false. Service members have received a pay raise every year for decades.

The president also reportedly called service members who died in battle ‘losers’ and ‘suckers’ as reported in a bombshell article from The Atlantic in September. Trump has denied saying that.

The NDAA, as the defense act is known, is one of the few major pieces of legislation seen as a ‘must-pass’ because it governs all Pentagon operations, which is considered a national security necessity.

But President Trump and Republicans are pushing for greater regulations for Big Tech, charging the companies with unfairly silencing conservatives, and also want to remove their blanket section 230 protection from being sued for content on their platforms.

Trump specifically mentioned that protection in his veto threat issued Tuesday night.

‘Section 230, which is a liability shielding gift from the U.S. to ‘Big Tech’ (the only companies in America that have it – corporate welfare!), is a serious threat to our National Security & Election Integrity, Trump tweeted.

‘Our Country can never be safe & secure if we allow it to stand,’ the president said.

‘Therefore, if the very dangerous & unfair Section 230 is not completely terminated as part of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), I will be forced to unequivocally VETO the Bill when sent to the very beautiful Resolute desk. Take back America NOW. Thank you!’ he added in a second tweet.

Trump has waged a war on social media throughout much of his presidency.

In October he signed an executive order directing executive branch agencies to ask independent rule-making agencies, including the Federal Communications Commission and the Federal Trade Commission, to study whether they can place new regulations on tech companies.

Post-election, Twitter has tagged many of Trump’s tweets because of the president’s false claims he won a second term. Facebook also removed some of his pre-election day posts because of their material.

Trump will also lose certain ‘public interest’ protections he enjoyed as president when he leaves the Oval Office, meaning his accounts will be even more likely to face tags and warning from the tech companies.

Twitter confirmed that Trump’s @realDonaldTrump account – which has 88.7 million followers – will be subject to the same rules as any other user – including bans on inciting violence and posting false information about voting or the coronavirus.

The company has special policies for world leaders and some other officials, leaving rule-breaking content online if there’s ‘a clear public interest value to keeping the tweet on the service.’

Twitter has left up Trump’s false tweets but flags them for inaccurate information. After he leaves the White House on January 20th, the company could remove his future musings if they violate user agreement rules.

President Trump is also angry about a provision in the defense act that would allow military bases named after Confederate heroes to be renamed         +12

President Trump is also angry about a provision in the defense act that would allow military bases named after Confederate heroes to be renamed

Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act shields the websites from liability for content created by their users. The Communications Decency Act, which sets the laws governing the internet, was written in 1996 when companies like Google and Facebook didn’t exist. Tech companies are fighting to keep the blanket protections provided by the law as there is a rising call to increase regulation of them.

Section 230 is credited with allowing the modern internet to exist. 

Twitter and Facebook, in particular, are heavily dependent on Section 230 to build their businesses and boost their profits. Both companies have increased their internal regulations of user content this election year in the face of the growing threat of federal regulation.  

Additionally, Trump threatened this summer to veto the defense bill over the provision renaming Confederate bases.

It was an area where he disagreed with former Defense Secretary Mark Esper, who was quietly working with Congress to codify the renaming of bases in the bill before Trump fired him earlier this month.

Both chambers of Congress overwhelmingly passed a provision that would change the names of Confederate-named bases as part of their defense bills and it is expected to be in the final version of the legislation.

The president has defended the use of Confederate flags and vowed not to change the names of military bases named after figures from the Civil War.

‘We are in a culture war,’ Trump said in July.

His comment came after Black Lives Matter protesters took down statues, mainly of Confederate figures, because of their links to white supremacy. Some states have officially decided to remove such figures because of their ties to racism.

Trump also announced in June he ‘will not even consider’ renaming American military bases that were named after leaders of the Confederacy.

‘These Monumental and very Powerful Bases have become part of a Great American Heritage, and a history of Winning, Victory, and Freedom,’ Trump tweeted.  ‘The United States of America trained and deployed our HEROES on these Hallowed Grounds, and won two World Wars,’ the president continued.

‘Therefore, my Administration will not even consider the renaming of these Magnificent and Fabled Military Installations,’ Trump said.

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