Defense bill battle showcases 2024 GOP hopefuls

BY ALEXANDER BOLTON  |  THE HILL

An intraparty fight over the annual defense authorization bill is turning into a showcase for rising conservative stars in the Senate who have their eyes on the White House for 2024.

President Trump has threatened to veto the legislation, and Republican senators weighing White House bids are being careful not to cross him.

Sens. Josh Hawley (Mo.), Tom Cotton (Ark.), Ted Cruz (Texas) and Rand Paul (Ky.) — four GOP senators who are potential presidential candidates in 2024 — voted against the legislation that passed with overwhelming bipartisan support on Friday.

The Senate sent the annual defense authorization bill, which has been enacted for 59 consecutive years, to President Trump’s desk after an 84-13 vote.

“Overall, what it shows you is that for these folks who could be the future leaders of the party, it shows you how strong Donald Trump’s hold on the party is,” said Ford O’Connell, a Republican strategist.

He said the issues being raised in the annual defense bill “are going to be important for the 2024 nominee.”

“The big tech part is huge,” O’Connell said, referring to Trump’s complaint that the legislation does not include language repealing Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, a 1996 law that provides legal protections to internet companies and allows them to engage in good faith moderation of content on their platforms.

Trump and other conservatives, principally Hawley, are calling for the defense bill to remove those protections.

Trump tweeted on Dec. 1 that unless 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.”

The president over the summer also vowed to veto the measure if it retained an amendment championed by Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) mandating the Pentagon remove Confederate names from U.S. military property after three years.

Hawley, Cotton and Cruz voted for the Senate version of the bill that included the amendment when it passed on July 23. Paul voted against it.

Ross K. Baker, a professor of political science at Rutgers University, said that if Trump doesn’t run for president again in 2024, the eventual nominee will still need the backing of his loyal supporters.

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