U.S. President Donald Trump boards Air Force One with first lady Melania Trump at Palm Beach International Airport in Florida, U.S., December 31, 2020 REUTERS
President Donald Trump's fellow Republicans in the U.S. Senate are expected to take steps toward overriding his veto of a major defense bill in a rare New Year's Day session on Friday and hand him his first major rebuke 20 days before he leaves office.
Republican lawmakers have largely stood by the president during his turbulent four years in the White House. Since losing his re-election bid in November, Trump has lashed out at them for not fully backing his unsupported claims of voting fraud, rejecting his demand for bigger COVID-19 relief checks and for moving toward the veto override.
The Republican-led Senate is set to reconvene at noon EST (1700 GMT) to take up the $740 billion National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which Trump refused to sign into law because it does not repeal certain legal protections for tech companies.
Senators are expected to cast the first of two procedural votes aimed at overriding Trump's veto, after the House of Representatives successfully voted to overturn it on Monday. If that succeeds, the Senate would then hold a second procedural vote followed by a final vote on passage on its last day in session on Saturday.
Democrats, who in an unusual alignment with Trump welcomed his call for $2,000 direct relief payments, had hoped to use the NDAA to force a swift vote on a bill authorizing the checks, which would give Americans more than the $600 coming now. Some Republicans also back larger payouts.
But Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell quashed the effort, tying larger checks to a competing bill with social media and election provisions that Democrats are sure to reject with little time left for maneuvering before the next Congress is sworn in on Sunday.
Trump, who returned to Washington on Thursday from his private club in Florida, has ramped up pressure on fellow Republicans and slammed party leadership for failing to do his bidding on the two measures.
"Weak and tired Republican 'leadership' will allow the bad Defense Bill to pass," he said in a string of tweets this week, adding: "Unless Republicans have a death wish ... they must approve the $2000 payments ASAP!"
Republican tensions are also rising over some conservatives' plan to object next Wednesday when the new Congress officially tallies the Electoral College votes certifying Democrat Joe Biden's presidential victory before he is sworn in on Jan. 20.
McConnell, who publicly acknowledged Biden's win, on Thursday raised questions in a call with his caucus over fellow Republican Senator Josh Hawley's plan to object, according to media reports. At least 140 Republicans in the House are expected to launch similar objections despite Congress' largely ceremonial role, CNN reported.
Representatives for McConnell did not respond to a Reuters query seeking comment on the planned maneuvers, which could trigger a lengthy Senate debate but have no chance of overturning the results.