One of the casualties of the bitter partisanship of the last four years appears to be a loss of understanding of the principles of governance by some members of Congress.
If one is elected to federal office, one should have and retain a simple understanding of how bills can and cannot become law, and a sense of the American history that surrounds that process.
Several Washington politicians this week seem to have lost their understanding of what a veto is, and what it isn't.
President Donald Trump vetoed the National Defense Authorization Act last week — essentially the year's defense bill — because it didn't place limits on the danger that social media platforms pose, because it sought to change the name of several defense posts, because he said it limited his ability to move troops and because he felt it favored China.
In other words, what he didn't like in the bill outweighed what he did like. That is why a president vetoes a bill.
It's not unheard of or un-American. Presidents have been vetoing bills since the country's earliest days. George Washington vetoed two. Democrats Grover Cleveland and Franklin Roosevelt vetoed 304 and 372, respectively. In the most recent past, Republican President Gerald Ford, in the mid-1970s, vetoed 48 in an effort to derail a spendthrift Democratic Congress.
Up to now, Trump has vetoed nine bills, three fewer than his two immediate predecessors, Barack Obama and George W. Bush.
If a president vetoes a bill, Congress must muster a two-thirds majority of votes in both houses to override the veto. The threshold is high because a president wants members of Congress to make absolutely sure they know what they're doing. If the House and the Senate override the veto, the bill becomes law over the president's objections. It's one of the checks and balances the Founding Fathers put into our system of governance.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-California, referred to Trump's veto as "sabotage" and "reckless." Sen. Jack Reed, D-Rhode Island, termed it "unprincipled" and "irrational." Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Oklahoma, said "the men and women who volunteer to wear the uniform shouldn't be denied what they need — ever," suggesting that the veto was preventing that.
The veto was none of those, but if they didn't like it, there was a simple remedy — an override.
Congress has overridden presidential vetoes 111 times before this bill. It took that step 12 times against Ford, nine times against Ronald Reagan and four times against George W. Bush.
On Monday, the U.S. House overrode Trump's veto, 322-87. It needed a two-thirds vote of those present, and it cleared that margin by nearly 50 votes.
In the vote, 109 Republicans, including U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann, R-Chattanooga, cast votes to override the veto. Where Trump undoubtedly was sending a message with his vote, stating the bill had more in it to dislike than like, the Republicans were also sending a message — that what they liked about the bill outweighed what they didn't like, and that they were not overly concerned about bucking a president with three weeks left in office.
Neither side was acting irrationally; both were playing within the rules set by the Constitution, as it should be.
Now the scenario shifts to the Senate for its veto vote. The bill itself passed the body earlier this month, 84-13. If it gets the needed number of votes, it becomes law, the same as it would have if Trump had signed it.
What rankles is the persistence of statements like that of U.S. Rep. Adam Smith, D-Washington, who said Trump's veto "made it clear that he does not care about the needs of our military personnel and their families."
A president who rebuilt the military, fought for raises for its personnel and attempted to repair the Veterans Administration from the damage done to it during the Obama administration suddenly doesn't care about it?
Such rhetoric is sickening but is typical of the partisanship that exists because a political party (and national media) didn't like the results of a presidential election four years ago.
One can argue the merits of the specifics Trump didn't like about the bill. He's right about some of his concerns, some will undoubtedly raise their head again and some are not likely to mean much in the sweep of history.
But whichever way the bill becomes law, the needs of our military personnel and their families weren't ever going to be unmet.
Far from being "irrational," Trump's defense bill veto was principled, constitutional and precedented. And if Congress overrides it, its actions will be no less — but no more — principled, constitutional and precedented.