The must-pass package is now in danger after the House adopted conservative amendments to a defense bill, which has sparked fierce opposition from Democrats and increased pressure on Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) to secure enough Republican votes to push it through the lower chamber.
Threats to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), a nonpartisan annual legislative rite that establishes the budget for the country’s armed forces, are exceptional.
But this year, McCarthy brought a number of contentious conservative amendments to the floor under pressure from hardliners in his caucus. On highly partisan votes Thursday night, five of the measures—concerning contentious topics like abortion and transgender rights—were approved.
The most significant of these is an amendment that would change the Pentagon’s practice of paying travel expenses for service personnel who had abortions. Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-Ala.) has objected to this practice by blocking hundreds of military promotions in the Senate. Only Reps. Henry Cuellar (Texas) and Brian Fitzpatrick (Pa.) (both Republicans) voted in favor of that amendment; all other Democrats abstained.
Democrats expressly mentioned the provision this week as a poison pill that would make them withdraw their support for the NDAA as a whole.
Despite the amendments, Democrats of all hues have already vowed to reject the final law when it is introduced on the House floor, possibly as soon as this Friday. The first NDAA framework was approved by the Armed Services Committee last month on a bipartisan, 58-to-1 vote.
Rep. Dean Phillips (D-Minn.), a moderate member of the Problem Solvers Caucus, stated, “I wouldn’t doubt if there are a lot — a lot — of Democratic nos.” “This is really a travesty, despite our belief in funding the national defense,”
Adam Smith (D-Washington), the leading Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee, announced late on Thursday said they would vote against the NDAA.
The proposed legislation, they claimed, “no longer exists.” What once served as a model of collaboration and a working government has been transformed into a tribute to prejudice and ignorance.
McCarthy would then be forced to work hard to secure more votes on his own side of the aisle in order to maintain his slim margin of victory. While the majority of conservatives applauded the bill’s move to the right, other Republicans have vowed to vote against its passage after amendments to stop money for Ukraine were left out.
“If there’s funding for another war in a foreign country that is not our NATO ally, it doesn’t make sense and I’ve been saying that from the beginning. So I would have to be a no,” Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) said.
McCarthy and House GOP leaders will need to either persuade hardline conservative Republicans, including those who have opposed the NDAA in the past, to vote for the bill and disregard their concerns about U.S. support for Ukraine, or count on Democrats to ignore amendments pertaining to explosive social issues.
In encouraging news for McCarthy, Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.) stated that he has never voted in favor of the yearly defense bill in the ten years he has been in Congress. However, he stated that he is reconsidering this time.
“Everything up here is a crap sandwich. And this one’s got some bread on it,” Massie said.
The chamber also passed two transgender-related amendments in addition to the abortion clause. One would forbid the active-duty military health insurance program from paying for “sex reassignment surgeries and gender hormone treatments for transgender individuals,” and the other would ban gender transition procedures under the Exceptional Family Member Program.
Two other amendments, sponsored by Rep. Chip Roy (R-Texas), targeted diversity programs and forbade the propagation of what many conservatives would refer to as “woke” notions, particularly stating that the United States is “a fundamentally racist country.”
Democrats were outraged by the passage of such laws and accused GOP leaders of succumbing to their most conservative supporters.
“Where are the moderate Republicans? Do they exist anymore?” asked Rep. Jim McGovern (Mass.), senior Democrat on the House Rules Committee.
The conservatives dismissed those criticisms, accusing the Biden administration of forcing Congress’s hand by adopting the social policies to begin with.
“It’s always funny to listen to my Democrat colleagues say that we’re politicizing this somehow by injecting cultural issues, as if they’re not driving the train on cultural issues over at DOD as we speak,” Roy said.
McCarthy dismissed the possibility of socially divisive amendments complicating the NDAA’s final passage earlier in the day by drawing comparisons between the Hyde Amendment, a long-standing policy rider that prohibits taxpayer funds from being used for abortion, and the abortion travel expenses policy reversal.
It simply implies that taxpayer funds won’t be used for abortion. For decades, everyone agreed that if you were the most ardent pro-life or pro-choice person, you should know that. So why are Democrats suddenly acting in such a radical manner that they have altered their stance for decades?McCarthy remarked.
When questioned about amendments that undermine diversity, fairness, and inclusion programs, McCarthy responded, “Do they want a military that can train at Disneyland or do they want a military that can defend the nation?”
Early indications suggest that Republicans will blame Democrats for any difficulties in passing the package.
Democrats possibly voting against the NDAA over the amendments “will really show America that the Democrats are so extreme that they won’t defend the military,” McCarthy added.
It startled onlookers when Rep. Nancy Mace (R-S.C.), who has spent much of the year condemning her own party for emphasizing abortion, voted in favor of the NDAA’s abortion provision on Thursday. She then asserted that the amendment is unimportant because the Democratic-controlled Senate will eliminate it and charged House Democrats with deserting the military if they voted against the final package because of that clause.
“It’s not going to pass the Senate anyway; it doesn’t matter,” Mace said. “So if you vote against the NDAA, you’re going to be voting against the men and women in uniform.”
The timing of the NDAA debate has been in flux all week as McCarthy and his leadership team struggled to devise an amendments strategy. Conservatives secured victory when the House Rules Committee — in the wee hours of Thursday morning — green-lit a batch of amendments that are poison pills for Democrats, coming after days of pressure from the House Freedom Caucus and their ideological allies.
Some of those conservative members expressed support for the bill after approval of those amendments.
Rep. Byron Donalds (R-Fla.) had said that reversing the abortion policy and blocking the Pentagon from paying for gender-affirming care were priorities for him — and after Thursday’s votes, he plans to vote in favor of the bill on Friday.
But securing the amendments votes, and seeing some of them pass, is not necessarily enough for all of the hard-ine Republicans to support the bill.
“I’m still leaning no,” said Rep. Eli Crane (R-Ariz.). “It bothers me, the money that we continue to send to Ukraine.”
While Republicans approved many of the more controversial amendments on Thursday the House overwhelmingly voted down a series of amendments pertaining to funding for Ukraine, leaving some GOP lawmakers uneasy.
Greene said she will vote against the defense bill when it comes to the floor for a final vote because of her Ukraine “red line.”
Two Ukraine-related amendments sponsored by the Georgia lawmaker were shot down by both Democrats and Republicans: the first, which would strike $300 million of Ukraine funding authorization from the bill, failed 89-341, and the second, which called for striking the creation of a Center of Excellence in Ukraine, was rejected 95-332-2.
“I think it’s a great bill in so many ways and I want to vote for it, but leaving the money in there makes it something I can’t vote for,” Greene said.
An amendment from Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) that would prohibit security assistance to Ukraine also failed in an overwhelming 70-358 vote.
Rep. Scott Perry (R-Pa.), the chairman of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, called the rejection of the Ukraine amendments “a disappointment,” but said the entire bill is improving. Whether or not he will support the package, however, is still up in the air.
“I don’t know if we’re completely there,” Perry said, “but I think it’s improving.”
Source: The Hill