The House narrowly passed the nation’s annual defense policy bill on Friday, after Republicans backed a slew of controversial amendments late Thursday that alienated Democrats and imperiled the typically bipartisan bill.
In a 219-210 vote largely along party lines, lawmakers approved the National Defense Authorization Act. But with the amendments concerning policies on abortion, gender-affirming care, critical race theory and beyond, the legislation in its current form has next to no chance in the Democrat-controlled Senate, which is working on its own version of the bill. But House Republicans will likely use the measure as a bargaining chip as the two chambers look to come together on a path forward.
Thursday’s votes on the modifications to the $886 billion measure that has been approved on an annual basis for more than 60 years came after the House Rules Committee sent the amendments to the floor in the wee hours of the morning as disputes within the conference had threatened to push floor action on the bill into next week. Ultimately, the group of conservatives – a small but increasingly powerful minority that threatened to stall progress on the legislation – got their proposals to the floor and, for some, into the bill.
Members of the House Freedom Caucus celebrated the progress on NDAA on Friday, while making clear that it’s just getting started.
“Just look at the conservative policies in this NDAA – this is the most conservative NDAA that I’ve ever had the pleasure of working with,” Rep. Lauren Boebert of Colorado said, celebrating a ban on funding for drag shows and the teaching of critical race theory; abolishing diversity, equity and inclusion programs; and establishing a pathway for the return of service members discharged under coronavirus vaccine mandates.
Republicans more broadly argued that the Biden administration has politicized the Pentagon with its “woke” agenda, making their social policy proposals in the NDAA a necessary reaction, while others positioned the social policies as a means to restore patriotism and confidence in the military.
Meanwhile, Democrats slammed the turn that the must-pass legislation took in response to the latest power grab from members of their conference’s right flank.
“It is woefully irresponsible that extreme MAGA Republicans have hijacked a bipartisan bill that is essential to our national security and taken it over and weaponized it in order to jam their extreme right wing ideology down the throats of the American people,” House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries said.
Generating the most stark opposition from Democrats was an amendment approved by House Republicans late Thursday that nixes the Pentagon’s policy reimbursing travel expenses related to abortion services for service members who may be stationed in states where abortion has been restricted. Even some Republicans, like Rep. Nancy Mace, have voiced frustration with the amendment, as the party reckons with how to address abortion in the aftermath of the Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade. But others in the party argued that taxpayer funds should not be used for abortions.
The move comes as Sen. Tommy Tuberville, Alabama Republican, has likewise pushed to reverse the Pentagon policy, blocking hundreds of military promotions – including potentially the military’s top post, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff – in protest and drawing the ire of the Biden administration and Defense Department for what they say is jeopardizing national security. Members of the House Freedom Caucus praised Tuberville on Friday, while pledging “reinforcements” in the House.