House Republicans, responding to the latest power grab from members of their conference’s right flank, approved a handful of controversial amendments to the nation’s must-pass annual defense policy bill on Thursday that threaten to alienate Democrats and imperil the typically bipartisan bill’s path forward.
Among the approved amendments to the National Defense Authorization Act is one that would roll back the Pentagon’s policy reimbursing travel expenses for abortion services and others that restrict health care coverage for gender-affirming care for transgender servicemembers, and from using federal funds for diversity programs and to teach critical race theory.
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 legislation.
During hours of debate on Thursday, Democrats decried what they said was a GOP effort to turn a defense bill “into a place to launch their culture wars.”
“It’s outrageous that a tiny minority of Republicans is getting to dictate exactly what amendments come to the floor,” Rep. Jim McGovern of Massachusetts, the ranking Democrat on the Rules Committee, said. “It’s outrageous that the rules committee last night managed to mess up a bipartisan bill and put it on a path toward becoming a hyperpartisan one by loading it up with every divisive social issue under the sun.”
But Republicans argued that the Biden administration has politicized the Pentagon with its “woke” agenda, making their social policy proposals a necessary reaction, while others positioned the social policies as a means to restore patriotism and confidence in the military.
House Majority Leader Steve Scalise said earlier this week that the NDAA “refocuses” Defense Department spending, which he said has moved away from its mission under the Biden administration by “trying to inject his woke ideology and the left’s woke ideology at the expense of our ability to confront our adversaries.”
Rep. Ronny Jackson, Texas Republican, who sponsored the amendment related to the Pentagon’s abortion policy, said Democrats want to blame the GOP for “jeopardizing readiness.”
“However, it is the Biden administration who has sidestepped existing law and given the department permission to take this illegal action,” Jackson said.
Meanwhile, lawmakers rejected amendments from some House conservatives related to Ukraine. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia proposed an amendment that would have struck $300 million of Ukraine funding, as she called the NDAA an “important” funding bill for the U.S. but “not for any other country.” The House also rejected an amendment from Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida that would have prohibited security assistance to the country.
“The Biden administration is sleepwalking our great country into a world war,” Gaetz said. “The American people did not sign up for this.”
Democrats cited the Ukraine proposals earlier this week as evidence of the far-right’s extremism threatening to infiltrate the NDAA. But even without the approval of the Ukraine amendments, the modifications are almost certainly a red line for Democrats, making House Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s job all the more difficult – as he must keep his slim majority united – and they slash the bill’s chances in the Senate, which is working to pass its own version of the legislation.
“If the extreme MAGA amendments pass and this NDAA bill passes on a partisan vote, it should not be seen as a victory for Speaker McCarthy,” McGovern said ahead of the votes on Thursday. “Barely passing a bill that usually passes with a supermajority is not a victory. And I wish him luck in negotiations with the Senate where some of these policies will be nonstarters. The speaker of the House needs to grow a spine – not for his own reputation, but for the good of this country.”