“Yes, the president is serious about it," White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said when asked about the president’s Tuesday night Twitter threat to torpedo the National Defense Authorisation Act unless it address what’s known colloquially as “Section 230.”
That is Washington shorthand for legal safeguards for tech companies that prevent them from being held legally responsible for the content they allow on their sites. Mr Trump has for months alleged the companies unfairly censor conservatives and promote left-leaning politicians and views.
The president has yet, however, to provide specific proof of those allegations.
"He is going to put the pressure on Congress to step up on this," Ms McEnany said, putting the legislation’s 59-year streak of being passed annually at risk.
Mr Trump first threatened to shoot down the Pentagon policy measure in a series of late-night tweets.
“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,” he wrote.
If the “very dangerous & unfair Section 230 is not completely terminated as part of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA),” Mr Trump added, “I will be forced to unequivocally VETO the Bill when sent to the very beautiful Resolute desk.”
The military measure, however, does not feature any language that would change Section 230.
But it does include a provision that would strip Confederate generals’ names from US military bases.
The president wants that provision removed, arguing the country should not deal with its Civil War past by renaming bases and removing statues of Confederate officials.
He is “very much opposed to the Warren amendment,” Ms McEnany told reporters, referring to the provision Senate Armed Services Committee member Elizabeth Warren pushed to be added to the measure.
But some conservative lawmakers object to that, further complicating the must-pass bill’s path to passage.
“The NDAA does NOT contain any reform to Section 230 but DOES contain Elizabeth Warren’s social engineering amendment to unilaterally rename bases & war memorials w/ no public input or process,” Missouri Senator Josh Hawley tweeted. “I cannot support it”.
Both chambers are planning to adjourn by 18 December, but have a ton to finish.
That list includes the NDAA, a government shutdown-averting spending bill and possibly another coronavirus relief package.
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer set an ambitious goal on Tuesday, saying he would like to have the lower chamber go home by 11 December so members that need to quarantine for 14 days due to coronavirus concerns can do so before Christmas.
One key GOP senator signalled this week that if the NDAA delays lawmakers’ holiday plans, it will not be due to the “Warren amendment.”
“It hasn’t changed and, quite frankly, it’s a good thing that it is there because that language would stall that for about three years, it would appoint a commission that we would have a lot of participation in,” Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman James Inhofe said of his chamber’s version of the bill.
“I’m glad the language is there because that’s one way of stalling the closures and the shuffling around of the installations,” he said, adding he had spoken with Mr Trump and he is “fine with that.”
But the president has stated his support for legislation and specific provisions before, only to later reverse himself and threaten to veto a major piece of legislation.