(Updates with Trump’s veto threat.)
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President Donald Trump threatened to veto the annual must-pass defense authorization bill unless it includes changes he has pressed congressional leaders for to the legal shield that protects tech companies from liability for user content.
The liability shield, Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, “is a serious threat to our National Security & Election Integrity,” Trump tweeted on Tuesday evening. “Therefore, if 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 administration has pressed congressional leaders to include language in the fiscal 2021 National Defense Authorization Act (H.R. 6395,S. 4049) that would limit the extent companies can moderate content on their platforms, according to a Senate aide.
Tacking on the modifications to Section 230, which protects tech platforms from lawsuits over most third-party content, is a last ditch effort to chip away at big tech’s legal shield before the start of the Biden administration.
The defense policy bill is considered must-pass legislation because it authorizes military pay increases as well as hazard pay for troops in harm’s way. Congress has approved the bill for 59 consecutive years.
The proposed text is very similar to S. 4534, the Online Freedom and Viewpoint Diversity Act, sponsored by Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Chairman Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), the Senate aide said. The push is part of the Trump administration’s broader efforts to limit the scope of Section 230 over concerns repeated by President Donald Trump that tech companies censor conservative speech online.
Wicker’s bill specifically would limit the scope of content companies would be able to moderate to that which is “promoting self-harm, promoting terrorism, or unlawful.” The bill is cosponsored by Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.), and has no Democratic cosponsors.
White House Effort
The White House has pushed repeal of the legal shield for months, and the defense policy bill could be one of its last shots to secure changes. The latest attempt is being discussed among House and Senate leaders after Armed Services committee heads in both chambers and those of other committees rebuffed efforts to include such a massive change in the NDAA, according to a congressional aide who asked not to be named because deliberations aren’t public.
White House chief of staff Mark Meadows previously suggested repealing Section 230 in exchange for lifting Trump’s earlier threat to veto the NDAA over a provision renaming military bases honoring Confederate generals.
Discussions had shifted to changing Section 230 rather than repealing it, and it’s unclear whether talks will be fruitful, according to the aide. It’s customary for congressional leaders to get involved in final negotiations over the defense bill.
But Trump’s latest veto threat calls for Section 230 to be “completely terminated, ”adding pressure to the ongoing negotiations over the defense bill.
The Senate is expected to select members of its NDAA conference committee any day, and Wicker, who is a member of the Armed Services Committee, would be a conferee by default.