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Republicans find a Trump threat they're eager to ignore

On the annual defense spending package, Trump backed himself into a corner for no reason and with no easy way out. Oops.
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People walk along the east front plaza of the US Capitol as night falls on Dec. 17, 2019.Samuel Corum / Getty Images file

Donald Trump hasn't played much of a role in helping pass the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) -- a massive, annual defense spending bill that funds the military -- but the outgoing president has played a prominent role in trying to kill it.

Last week, the White House said Trump was prepared to veto the legislation unless lawmakers agreed to protect the names of bases that honor Confederate leaders. This week, the president went further, vowing to "unequivocally" veto the defense package unless Congress eliminates Section 230 of the 1996 Communications Decency Act -- a liability shield for internet companies.

How would Congress respond to Trump's public threats? Apparently, by ignoring them. NBC News reported late yesterday:

Senate Armed Services Chair James Inhofe, R-Okla., a Trump ally, rejected the president's demand, telling reporters in the Capitol that "230 has nothing to do with the military" and should be dealt with separately.... Inhofe's view is shared by numerous Republican allies of Trump, including Senate Majority Whip John Thune of South Dakota, Rep. Chip Roy of Texas and Rep. Paul Mitchell of Michigan.

Axios reported that Inhofe -- whom the president tapped as his emissary to "fix" the NDAA to his liking -- was overheard in a Senate office building yesterday, explaining to Trump that his latest demands could not and would not be met.

The Oklahoma Republican was hardly alone. While most GOP lawmakers have spent the last four years looking for ways to make Trump happy in nearly every instance, the party collectively seemed to roll its eyes in response to the latest nonsensical presidential threat.

Politico reported that Republicans on Capitol Hill showed "signs of exasperation" with Trump's ultimatum. One GOP lawmaker said, "Republicans are sick of this s**t."

Following up on our earlier coverage, Trump apparently thought he had some leverage: Democrats and Republicans both want the NDAA to pass, so he assumed they would give in to his demands, allowing him to exact revenge on tech companies he falsely believes have conspired against him and his far-right allies.

But as is too often the case, the president had no idea what he was doing, and didn't seem to appreciate the fact that he was making threats that lawmakers would find easy to ignore.

So, what does Trump do now, after backing himself into a corner for no reason and with no easy way out? He could sheepishly back down, looking pitifully weak in the last legislative fight of his presidency, or the Republican could veto military spending, and wait for Congress to override his veto -- leaving him looking pitifully weak in the last legislative fight of his presidency.

The president came up with a dumb idea, which led to a dumb strategy, which he's implementing in a dumb way.

Update: As I was writing this, Trump tweeted that "termination" of Section 230 "must be put in Defense Bill!!!" Evidently, he didn't quite understand Inhofe's explanation yesterday.