Following through on his previous threat, President Trump has vetoed the $740 million National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), a major bill that allocates military funds each year.
In tweets early this month, Trump said he would sink the NDAA if it wasn’t altered to include language “terminating” Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, an essential and previously obscure internet law that the president has had in his crosshairs for the better part of the year.
“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,” Trump said in a statement on the veto. It’s not clear what the president meant, or what he was referring to in criticizing the military funding bill as a ” ‘gift’ to China and Russia.”
The president cited “bipartisan calls” for a Section 230 repeal in his decision, in spite of the NDAA’s overwhelming bipartisan support in Congress and the fact that Section 230 reform was never seriously considered in the unrelated military spending bill. Trump also claimed that Section 230 “facilitates the spread of foreign disinformation online,” a threat that the president, who frequently spreads dangerous misinformation online, has historically expressed little concern for.
Section 230 became a hot topic in 2020 as lawmakers, states and the federal government made major moves to rein in the tech industry’s biggest, most powerful companies. The law protects internet companies from liability for the content they host and is widely credited with opening the doors for internet companies big and small to grow their online business over the years.
Looking for leverage over tech platforms that policed his content, Trump zeroed in on Section 230 — and Twitter in particular — early this year. In May, the president signed an unusual but largely toothless executive order attacking tech’s liability shield. “The choices Twitter makes when it chooses to edit, blacklist, shadowban are editorial decisions, pure and simple,” Trump said when he signed the order.
Trump’s position on Section 230 and the NDAA was never particularly tenable. While the NDAA is a massive piece of legislation, the kind that rolls up many disparate things, altering it to somehow repeal Section 230 was never on the table. It’s also hard to overstate the unpopularity of the position the president has staked out here. The NDAA funds many parts of the military beyond combat and this year’s bill includes pay raises for the troops and additional health support for Vietnam veterans.
Trump’s views on Section 230 are similarly extreme, even relative to many other members of his party. While there is support for changing Section 230 on both sides of the aisle, Congress is far from a consensus on what needs to change and a complex bipartisan reform effort is ongoing. Throwing Section 230 out altogether is very unlikely to be the end result of whatever kind of reform Congress comes up with in the coming year.
The House plans to convene on Monday to override the president’s exercise of veto powers, an effort that would require a two-thirds majority in both houses of Congress. The House approved the NDAA earlier this month with a veto-proof 355-78 vote, including broad support from the vast majority of House Republicans. The Senate passed the legislation along to the president with a similarly strong bipartisan 84-13 vote in favor of the bill on December 11.