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Trump threatens to veto defense bill unless social media shield is repealed

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Washington — President Trump threatened Tuesday to veto a must-pass annual defense policy bill unless Congress agrees to end a federal law that provides social media companies with a crucial legal shield.

Mr. Trump made his threat in a pair of late-night tweets, in which he said Congress must include a repeal of the law known as Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act in the $740 billion National Defense Authorization Act for it to receive his signature. The president has for months been pressuring Congress to strip social media companies of the protections they receive under the 24-year-old law, claiming platforms like Twitter and Facebook censor and suppress conservative speech.

"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. Our Country can never be safe & secure if we allow it to stand," Mr. Trump tweeted. "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."

But the president is bumping up against opposition to his pledge to nix the defense bill without changes to Section 230, including from House and Senate leaders of the Armed Services Committees. 

Senator Jim Inhofe, a Republican from Oklahoma who chairs the Senate panel, said the law has "nothing to do with the military."

"I agree with his sentiments, 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, adding he conveyed that to Mr. Trump.

Congressman Adam Smith, a Democrat from Washington and chair of the House Armed Services Committee, said the president's desire to do away with Section 230 is rooted in his dislike of 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.

Senator Ron Wyden, a Democrat from Oregon who co-authored Section 230, lambasted Mr. Trump for his threat.

"I'd like to start for the Blazers, but it's not going to happen either," he said in a statement, referencing the Portland Trail Blazers NBA team. "It is pathetic that Trump refuses to help unemployed workers, while he spends his time tweeting unhinged election conspiracies and demanding Congress repeal the foundation of free speech online."

Mr. Trump's 11th-hour demand came as lawmakers from both parties and the White House were negotiating the terms of the final military package. The House and Senate passed with bipartisan support their own versions of the bill, which addresses weapons procurement, pay for service members and troop levels, this summer.

On Wednesday afternoon, Smith and Congressman Mac Thornberry of Texas, the top Republican on the House Armed Services Committee, said a bicameral agreement on the defense package has been reached.

"For 59 straight years, the NDAA has passed because members of Congress and presidents of both parties have set aside their own policy objectives and partisan preferences and put the needs of our military personnel and America's security first. The time has come to do that again," Smith and Thornberry said in a joint statement.

The lawmakers said the bill authorizes hazardous duty pay for service members and improvements to military housing, and provides $8.4 billion in military construction projects, among other provisions.

An earlier sticking point for the president was the inclusion in the bill of a provision that requires the Pentagon to rename bases and other military assets named for Confederate leaders. Mr. Trump threatened in July to kill the package if the measure was included.

White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany told reporters the president is serious about his veto threat and criticized Twitter for what she said was disparate treatment of Republicans on the platform.

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