U.S. Senate backs massive defense bill, despite Trump veto threat

By Patricia Zengerle

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Senate on Friday threw its weight behind the annual National Defense Authorization Act, or NDAA, a $740 billion bill setting policy for the Department of Defense, passing the bill with a margin large enough to overcome President Donald Trump’s promised veto.

The Republican-controlled Senate backed the bill by 84 to 13, more than the two-thirds majority needed in the 100-member chamber to override a veto.

The Democratic-led House of Representatives backed the NDAA by 335 to 78 earlier this week, also more than the two-thirds majority needed.

Backers hope strong bipartisan support will prompt Trump to reconsider his threat to veto the annual bill, which sets policy for the U.S. military and has become law for 59 straight years.

The White House said earlier on Friday that Trump’s position had not changed. The president will have 10 days – minus Sundays – to issue a veto, sign it or allow it to become law without his signature.

Trump has threatened to veto the fiscal 2021 NDAA because of a provision to remove the names of Confederate generals from military bases.

He also objects because it does not repeal Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which protects technology companies like Alphabet Inc’s Google, Twitter Inc and Facebook Inc from liability for what appears on their platforms, although that is not related to the military.

Trump also objects to some provisions in the legislation that could slow plans to withdraw troops from Afghanistan and Germany.

(Reporting by Patricia Zengerle; editing by Franklin Paul, Jonathan Oatis and Philippa Fletcher)

Trump and Brexit give momentum to EU defense push

European Commissioner Elzbieta Bienkowska arrives to a meeting of European Union defence ministers at the EU Council in Brussels, Belgium May 18, 2017. REUTERS/Eric Vidal

By Gabriela Baczynska and Robin Emmott

BRUSSELS (Reuters) – The European Union’s executive is ready to increase support for the bloc’s first ever defense research program, offering more funds to develop new military hardware in its earliest stages after years of government cuts, a top EU official said.

Following a 90-million-euro pilot investment from the EU’s common budget in 2017-2019, the European Commission is proposing 500 million euros ($563 million) for the 2019-2020 period that could rise to 1.5 billion euros a year from 2021, Industry Commissioner Elzbieta Bienkowska told Reuters.

“European citizens see security as the number one thing that Europe should provide to them, so it’s time to propose this,” Bienkowska said in an interview.

With Britain, one of EU’s leading military powers, leaving the bloc, ideas for common EU defense are gathering pace in the wake of Islamic attacks in Western Europe. Europeans are also worried about U.S. commitment to NATO under President Donald Trump.

Under the proposal unveiled on Wednesday, at least three firms and two member states would have to submit a joint project to be eligible for financing from the EU budget.

If agreed by governments and the European Parliament, the EU budget would put up 20 percent of the costs of developing prototypes, Bienkowska said.

“The prototype phase is the riskiest one and it is very important to have incentives from the European budget to prepare common projects,” she added.

A European drone is often cited as an example of how EU funding can help get projects underway. Bienkowska said she also hoped to see cyber projects from smaller firms and innovative startups.

She said she wants negotiations and legislative work between the Commission, member states and the European Parliament to finalize by the end of 2018.


The EU’s political capital Brussels hopes it can turn the tables on Brexit – an unprecedented setback in 60 years of European integration – by moving ahead with closer defense and security cooperation, which London had long blocked.

The EU, where most governments are also NATO allies, have also come under increased pressure from Trump, who last month scolded the Europeans for failing to spend enough on their own defense.

Though Bienkowska said work on promoting more security and defense cooperation in the EU has started two years ago, she admitted Europe’s unease about Trump gives it additional momentum: “All developments in the United States will make our cooperation (in Europe) stronger.”

“We will work more closely in the European Union, what we want to achieve is to have a stronger European defense and a stronger NATO.”

Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea from Ukraine and its subsequent backing for militias fighting Kiev troops in the industrial east of the former Soviet republic also add to the bloc’s security concerns.

The EU estimates it loses up to a 100 billion euros a year on duplication, leaving it with far fewer capabilities than the United States. Years of defense cuts have worsened the issue as national governments jealously protect their own firms.

Europe has 37 types of armored personal carriers and 12 types of tanker aircraft compared to nine and four respectively in the United States, according to EU analysis.

“Up until now, member states were doing things completely separately, without any cooperation. I want to appeal to the member states to think about common projects, because the money will be there,” Bienkowska said.

For the future, Bienkowska is mulling a common European defense bond for joint purchases from 2021, though she said no decisions had yet been taken.

Italy is a proponent of issuing joint EU debt, as well as exempting various types of spending from budget deficit limits. Germany, on the other hand, which is the bloc’s largest economy and key power, is opposed to both these approaches. ($1 = 0.8887 euros)

(Editing by Pritha Sarkar)

U.S. Congress passes $618.7 billion annual defense bill

A U.S. Navy crewman directs an F/A-18E Super Hornet fighter jet on the flight deck of the aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman in the Mediterranean Sea in a photo released by the US Navy June 3, 2016. U U.S. Navy/Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class

By Patricia Zengerle

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Senate overwhelmingly passed a compromise version of an annual defense policy bill on Thursday without controversial provisions such as requiring women to register for the draft or allowing contractors to make religion-based hiring decisions.

Ninety-two senators backed the $618.7 billion National Defense Authorization Act, or NDAA, and seven opposed it. Because it passed the House of Representatives by a similarly large margin last week, the bill now goes to the White House for President Barack Obama to veto or sign into law.

A White House spokesman told a briefing he did not yet have a position on the bill to report.

The 2016 bill, the last of Obama’s presidency, includes some Republican-backed initiatives with which he has disagreed in the past. It includes a $3.2 billion increase in military spending, when there has been no similar increase in non-defense funding.

The bill also bars closures of military bases, although top Pentagon officials say they have too much capacity, and it blocks planned reductions in active-duty troop numbers.

And it continues policies that bar transfers of prisoners to U.S. soil from the detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, which Obama had hoped to close. While his administration has shipped most inmates from the controversial prison, the Democrat is not expected to accomplish his goal of shuttering it before he leaves office Jan. 20.

Obama’s successor, Republican Donald Trump, wants to keep Guantanamo open, and expand it.

The NDAA passed both chambers in the Republican-led Congress with margins large enough to overcome a veto, and the compromise legislation features many provisions such as a military pay raise and an expansion of a landmark human rights bill, that are extremely popular in Congress. [L1N1E316A]

After months of negotiation, the Senate and House Armed Services committees unveiled a compromise version of the NDAA last month that left out the Russell Amendment, a “religious freedom” measure Democrats said would have let federal contractors discriminate against workers on the basis of gender or sexual orientation, overturning Obama’s executive order.

Some House Republicans said they hoped to revisit that provision after Trump takes office, when they do not have to worry about a veto threat from a Democratic White House.

The bill also excluded a provision that would have required women to register for the military draft, now that Pentagon leaders are moving to allow them into combat.

A provision recommending that the U.S. conducts yearly high-level military exchanges with Taiwan, which Beijing sees as a breakaway province, made it into the final bill.

China’s defense ministry said in a statement on its official microblog on Friday that it was “firmly opposed” to the move, which would “inevitably damage U.S. interests”.

(Reporting by Patricia Zengerle; Additional reporting by Timothy Gardner, and Christian Shepherd and Michael Martina in BEIJING; Editing by Richard Chang and Clarence Fernandez)