The fate of the annual defense bill was in doubt on Friday after Republicans loaded the legislation with a series of conservative social policy restrictions limiting access to abortions, gender transition procedures and diversity training for the military personnel, alienating Democrats whose votes GOP leaders had seen as critical to passing legislation.
Democrats pledged to oppose the bill in a vote scheduled Friday morning, accusing GOP leaders of turning what began as a bipartisan bill into a hyperpoliticized salvo into a broader culture war to please a small right-wing faction of their party.
“Extreme MAGA Republicans have chosen to hijack the historically bipartisan National Defense Authorization Act to continue to attack reproductive freedom and wedge their right-wing ideology down the throats of the American people,” Representatives Hakeem Jeffries of New York, Katherine M Clark of Massachusetts and Pete Aguilar of California, the top three Democratic leaders, said in a statement Thursday in which they promised to vote against the bill.
Republican leaders expressed cautious optimism that they could unite their party behind the bill and pass it anyway, having added enough of the hard-line changes demanded by the far right to placate resistance in their ranks and offset the opposition. almost universal Democrats.
« I think we have enough votes to be a majority, » said Rep. Tom Cole, an Oklahoma Republican, who earlier this week predicted the bill’s potential demise if the GOP lost Democratic votes. « It will be close, but I think we will win. »
At stake is an $886 billion bill that would grant a 5.2 percent raise to military personnel, include programs to counter aggressive moves by China and Russia, and set up a special inspector general to oversee U.S. aid to all countries. ‘Ukraine.
The Republican-led House, spurred on by right-wing lawmakers, has attached a provision to roll back a Pentagon policy adopted after the Supreme Court struck down abortion rights to provide time off and travel reimbursement for service members who must travel out of state to get an abortion.
Republicans also added measures prohibiting the military from offering health coverage for gender transition surgeries — which currently require a waiver — and related hormone therapies. They included language that would purge all diversity, equity and inclusion offices at the Pentagon, as well as the positions associated with them.
They have enacted a measure that prevents the educational arm of the Pentagon from buying any book that contains pornography or « espossess radical gender ideology. » And with the help of nine Democrats, they passed an amendment that would ban Defense Department schools from teaching that the United States or its constitutional documents are racist.
The measures have no chance of passing in the Democratic-led Senate, which is planning to begin considering its own version of the bill next week. Even if Republicans get their bill through the House, the deep divide between the houses is expected to spark a protracted struggle that could threaten Congress’s ability to maintain its six-decade track record of passing government bills. defense policy law every year.
Rep. Adam Smith of Washington, the top Democrat on the Armed Services Committee, complained about the Republican approach to the legislation, saying it had scuppered a bill that emerged from the jury in a nearly unanimous vote. In a statement Thursday night co-signed by all top Democrats on the panel’s subcommittees, Mr. Smith said he « he cannot and will not vote » for a bill that « has become an anthem of bigotry and ignorance « .
The changes represented a victory for far-right Republicans who lobbied President Kevin McCarthy to avoid working with Democrats, and instead reach out to the party’s grassroots, on important pieces of legislation. They spent weeks agitating for reluctant GOP leaders to include the socially conservative amendments in the defense bill debate, eventually forcing the issue by threatening to block progress on the legislation until they got their way.
The success of these measures on the floor creates momentum for those members to leverage in future budget debates, where the far right is seeking similar changes across government.
“It is critical and critical to defense that we stop turning the Defense Department into a uniform-wrapped social engineering experiment,” Rep. Chip Roy, a Texas Republican and one of the ultraconservative ringleaders, told the floor Thursday.
Nearly all Republicans voted for a measure to limit funding to allow service members to travel for abortions, which the House passed 221 to 213, and for another that denies coverage of transgender troops for surgeries. gender transition surgeries and hormone therapy, which rose from 222 to 211. Fitted by Rep. Ralph Norman, Republican of South Carolina, which would eliminate all Pentagon diversity offices and employees, outnumbered by a narrower margin, 214 to 213.
The House rejected a broader measure by Florida Republican Congressman Matt Gaetz that would have barred the Pentagon from spending money on diversity training. That measure failed by a vote of 210 to 221.
The votes came amid a heated debate in which Republicans and Democrats squabbled over issues of race, sex and gender. Rep. Eli Crane, a Republican from Arizona, at one point referred to « people of color » while defending his amendment to prevent diversity training from becoming a condition of getting or keeping Department of Defense jobs. Rep. Joyce Beatty of Ohio, a Democrat who is black, requested that her comments be stricken from the record, and Mr. Crane later said in a statement that he had « bad mouthed. »
Later in the evening, Representative Jill Tokuda, a Democrat from Hawaii, admonished her GOP colleagues over the tenor of the debate.
« From the backwards and racially insensitive comments uttered in this plan, it appears that DEI training would be good right here in the halls of Congress, » he said.
Thursday’s only bipartisan consensus, it seemed, was widespread opposition to Republican efforts to reduce or eliminate military assistance and arms shipments to Ukraine.
By a vote of 276 to 147, the House rejected a proposal to ban the Biden administration from sending cluster munitions to Ukraine, with two lawmakers attending the vote. The Biden administration announced last week that it would send the weapons to Kiev, despite bipartisan concerns that the weapons posed too great a danger to civilians.
The amendment was offered by Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene, a Republican of Georgia, who also failed in her attempt to eliminate a $300 million program to train and equip Ukrainian soldiers that has been part of the defense bill for nearly a decade. The House rejected that effort by a vote of 341 to 89, along with a similar proposal by Mr. Gaetz to ban Congress from embezzling any more money for Ukraine’s war effort, which it defeated 358 to 70.