WASHINGTON, D.C. (The Hill) — President Trump signed into law Monday the $717 billion annual defense policy bill, the earliest in the year the bill has become law in more than four decades.
“The National Defense Authorization Act is the most significant investment in our military and our warfighters in modern history, and I am very proud to be a big, big part of it,” Trump said before signing the bill.
“It was not very hard. You know, I went to Congress, I said let’s do it, we got to do it. We’re going to strengthen our military like never, ever before, and that’s what we did,” he said.
Trump signed the bill during a visit to Fort Drum, N.Y., where he was joined by Vice President Pence, Deputy Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan and the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Several members of Congress were also in attendance, including Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.), who invited Trump to Fort Drum, and Rep. Martha McSally (R-Ariz.), a House Armed Services Committee member and Air Force veteran who is running for the Senate.
This year’s National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) authorizes about $639 billion for the base budget of the Pentagon and defense programs of the Energy Department. It also allows for another $69 billion for a war fund known as the Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) account.
It fulfills several of the administration’s priorities to bulk up the military, including adding 15,600 troops across the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps.
The bill also follows the administration’s request for 77 F-35 fighter jets and goes beyond the administration’s request for Navy ships, authorizing a total of 13 new vessels.
“We will replace aging tanks, aging planes and ships with the most advanced and lethal technology ever developed, and hopefully we’ll be so strong we’ll never have to use them,” Trump said.
The bill also gives troops a 2.6 percent pay raise, the highest in nine years.
This year’s NDAA is named for Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain (R-Ariz.), who was unable to shepherd the bill through Congress this year as he remains at home receiving treatment for brain cancer.
Trump and McCain have clashed frequently in the past over issues ranging from Trump’s rapprochement with Russia to McCain’s no vote on last year’s healthcare bill. During the presidential campaign, Trump also said McCain was not a war hero for being a prisoner of war in Vietnam.
On Monday, Trump made no mention of the bill’s namesake.
In the bill signed Monday, the result of breakneck House-Senate negotiations, Congress avoided a possible fight with Trump over a provision related to Chinese telecommunications giant ZTE.
The original Senate-passed version of the NDAA included a provision that would have blocked Trump’s plan to save ZTE, which had been slapped with penalties that prevented it from buying U.S. technology after admitting to violating sanctions on Iran and North Korea.
The White House has said it “strongly” opposed the provision, but did not issue a veto threat over it.
Ultimately, though, bipartisan negotiators stripped the Senate provision from the bill, citing a $1 billion cost that would have had to be made up by cutting mandatory spending such as troop’s health care or retirement benefits.
Instead, the final bill aligns with the initial House-passed version. It bans the government from contracting with ZTE and Huawei, another Chinese telecommunications company, or companies that do business with them.
One closely watched provision that did make it into the final bill was Defense Secretary James Mattis’s request for an ability to waive sanctions on partner countries that have bought Russian arms in the past but want to now buy U.S. weapons.
Mattis argued the provision was necessary to more closely align India, Vietnam and Indonesia with the United States, but some Democrats expressed concern the provision would loosen sanctions on Russia.
Mattis did not win a separate fight with Congress over provisions in the bill on Turkey. The final bill blocks delivery of the F-35 to Ankara until the Pentagon completes an assessment of U.S.-Turkish relations.
Lawmakers are concerned about Turkey’s plan to buy the S-400 air-defense system from Russia, its detention of American pastor Andrew Brunson and its moves in Syria against U.S.-backed Kurdish forces.
With the NDAA signed into law, Congress now turns its attention to passing a defense spending bill to make the dollar amounts authorized by the NDAA a reality. The House passed a Pentagon spending bill in June, while the Senate is expected to start considering its version as soon as this week.