LAS CRUCES - In the closing weeks of the 116th Congress, New Mexico's congressional delegation in Washington celebrated the completion Thursday of a $740.5 billion compromise defense bill for 2021.
The conference bill reconciles versions previously passed by the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate. Among the 53 House conferees was outgoing U.S. Rep. Xochitl Torres Small, D-N.M., from the second congressional district encompassing southern New Mexico. Torres Small sits on the House Armed Services Committee.
"Supporting our national defense remains one of Congress’s most important jobs," Torres Small stated in a news release, adding: "It’s crucial Congress swiftly passes this legislation and President Trump signs it so military installations in New Mexico and across the world have the resources needed to carry out missions."
The annual legislation provides billions in funding for New Mexico's national labs and military installations as part of legislation setting policy for the Pentagon and appropriating funds for the defense budget.
U.S. Rep. Deb Haaland from New Mexico's first congressional district, also a Democrat, expressed satisfaction that the final bill included provisions she had championed on military adaptation to conditions related to climate change.
Yet President Donald Trump has threatened to veto the bill unless it also repeals Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, a provision shielding social media companies such as Twitter and Facebook from liability for content posted by users.
Trump issued the demand Tuesday night and repeated his veto threat Thursday, but the bill sent to his desk does not address Section 230.
Sen. Jim Inhofe, a Republican from Oklahoma and chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, stated Friday that while he agrees on the need for a repeal of Section 230, adding it to the defense bill was "impossible."
"The only other option would mean that for the first time in 60 years, we would not have an NDAA," Inhofe stated.
Moreover, despite previous veto threats, the bill also requires the renaming of military bases honoring figures from the confederacy, which the president had previously signaled was unacceptable to him. The proposal nonetheless enjoyed strong support in the Republican-led Senate, including that of New Mexico Sens. Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich, both Democrats.
Neither senator indicated belief that President Trump would actually veto the defense bill.
Heinrich was more blunt: "President Trump is just being a sore loser," he said, in an apparent reference to the Nov. 4 presidential election in which Trump failed to secure a second term.
"He needs to put his big boy pants on and stop jeopardizing resources for our men and women in uniform and our national security," Heinrich continued.
Heinrich spokesman Aaron Morales added that, given "positive indications from Senate and House Armed Services leadership combined with the huge bipartisan support of this annual effort," the senator was confident the bill "will become law," although that does not necessarily require the president's approval.
To override a veto, both chambers would need to approve the bill with a 2/3 majority. The Senate passed its version of the NDA by 86 to 14, an indicator of veto-proof support, while the House passed its version by a slimmer margin of 295 to 125 but House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said Friday he was confident the House had the votes to override a veto.
Torres Small did not comment on the president's threat.
Udall will be succeeded in the Senate by Democrat Ben Ray Luján, who vacated his third district House seat in order to run for Senate. Fellow Democrat Teresa Leger Fernandez won the House seat in the Nov. 4 election.
Torres Small will leave Congress as well this month. The first-term congresswoman from Las Cruces was defeated in her election bid on Nov. 4 by Republican Yvette Herrell of Alamogordo.
Herrell, who is in Washington this week attending orientation events for new members, will join the 117th Congress as the lone Republican from New Mexico's delegation.