scorecardresearch

Trump signs defense bill named for McCain, but doesn’t mention him

President Trump held the John S. McCain National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2019 after signing it at Fort Drum, N.Y., on Monday.
President Trump held the John S. McCain National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2019 after signing it at Fort Drum, N.Y., on Monday.(Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images)

FORT DRUM, N.Y. — President Trump on Monday signed a $716 billion defense policy bill named for John McCain but included no mention in his remarks of the Republican senator, who is battling brain cancer at home in Arizona.

Trump and McCain are engaged in a long-running feud that dates to Trump’s 2016 presidential run.

At campaign rallies, Trump regularly castigates McCain — without outright naming him — for casting a dramatic thumbs-down vote that doomed Trump’s effort last year to repeal the Affordable Care Act, which was enacted by President Barack Obama.

Trump said there was ‘‘no better place than right here at Fort Drum’’ to celebrate passage of the defense bill, which will boost military pay by 2.6 percent, giving service members their largest increase in nine years.

Advertisement



The bill — formally named the John S. McCain National Defense Authorization Act but referred to by Trump as simply the National Defense Authorization Act — will introduce thousands of new recruits to active duty, reserve, and National Guard units and replace aging tanks, planes, ships, and helicopters with more advanced and lethal technology, Trump said. ‘‘Hopefully, we’ll be so strong we’ll never have to use it. But if we ever did, nobody has a chance,’’ he said.

The bill also authorizes billions of dollars for military construction, including family housing.

Besides setting policy and spending levels, the bill weakens a bid to clamp down on Chinese telecom company ZTE. It allows Trump to waive sanctions against countries that bought Russian weapons and now want to buy US military equipment.

The bill provides no money for Trump’s requested Space Force but authorizes the military parade he wants in Washington in November. The White House has said it will outline a budget for the space force next year. The measure also addresses child-on-child sexual assault at US military bases worldwide, an issue an Associated Press investigation revealed this spring.

Advertisement



The compromise bill removes a provision reinstating penalties against ZTE and restricting the company’s ability to buy US component parts. ZTE was almost forced out of business after being accused of selling sensitive information to nations hostile to the United States, namely Iran and North Korea, in violation of trade laws.

Trump warned in May that the ban was causing heavy job losses in China, and the Commerce Department reached a deal to lift the ban in June, allowing business with US companies to resume. The bill retains language blocking US government purchases and contracts with ZTE.

The measure also includes provisions designed to improve how the Defense Department handles reports of sexual assaults among the tens of thousands of children and teens who live and go to school on the military bases where their parents serve.

Among the changes, the bill creates legal protections for students at Department of Defense Education Activity schools and requires the school system and the Pentagon to develop new policies for responding to reports on bases more generally. Schools and the armed services also must start tracking incidents.

The annual measure sets policies and a budget outline for the Pentagon and will be followed by a later appropriations bill.

Trump and McCain have had a strained relationship for years. During his election campaign, Trump declared that McCain, who was a prisoner of war for more than five years in Vietnam, was not a war hero, and he has publicly and privately blamed McCain for defeating the Republican health care bill last year.

Advertisement



In May, a West Wing aide dismissed McCain’s negative opinion on Trump’s CIA nominee during a closed-door meeting by saying of the senator that ‘‘he’s dying anyway.’’ Trump, who has long prided himself on never apologizing, believing it shows weakness, did not apologize, but the aide was later fired.

McCain expressed pride in the bill in a Twitter post.

‘‘I’m proud the NDAA is now law and humbled Congress chose to designate it in my name. As chairman of the Armed Services Committee, I’ve found high purpose in service of a cause greater than self — the cause of our troops who defend America and all that she stands for,’’ he said.