Rep. Jen Kiggans, a minivan-driving mom and Navy veteran, narrowly won election last year in her suburban Virginia swing district after a fiercely competitive race that focused on her opposition to abortion rights .
The issue remains a top priority for voters in her district, and appearing too hard-line could leave her vulnerable again when she faces re-election in 2024. But Ms. Kiggans was one of dozens of competitive borough Republicans who voted this week to support the adding a series of deeply partisan restrictions to the annual defense policy bill, including one that would roll back a Pentagon policy aimed at preserving access to abortion services for military personnel, regardless of where they are stationed.
Democrats said the GOP provision was a stepping stone to instituting more abortion bans nationwide, while Republicans argued it merely preserved a long-standing ban against using federal funds to pay for abortions.
The vote has put lawmakers like Ms. Kiggans, a top target of Democrats whose seat is up for grabs in next year’s congressional elections, in a politically perilous position. And he raised the question of whether, in winning the short-term victory of keeping his party united behind the annual defense bill — passed by a vote close to the party line on Friday — President Kevin McCarthy may have embraced a strategy which may have ultimately cost his party a majority in the House.
Ms Kiggans and other Republicans in similar positions said they had no problem supporting the abortion restriction or the bill itself, which came out of the House laden with other conservative policy dictates, including one banning the military health program to provide transgender health services; and another that limits diversity training for military personnel.
« Taxpayers shouldn’t have to pay for elective surgery, » Ms Kiggans, who ran as a moderate focused on economics at the kitchen table, said in an interview on Friday, explaining her vote. “This was not an abortion bill; these were taxpayers who paid for the travel of military members for elective procedures”.
Still, the House Democrats’ campaign arm wasted no time attacking Ms. Kiggans and other vulnerable Republicans who had supported the bill, and even some GOP lawmakers admitted embracing it looked bad for a party seeking to broaden its appeal.
“The reason we are in the majority today is because of the swing districts and the reason we are going to lose the majority is because of the swing districts,” said Rep. Nancy Mace, a Republican from South Carolina. “It’s just lost up here. It’s 10 days until August break, and what have we done for the ladies, after Roe? Zero. »
Ms. Mace, who represents a politically divided district, railed against the abortion amendment but ultimately voted for it because she said it was technically consistent with Department of Defense policy. But she said she regretted being forced to vote.
« I’m not happy about it, » she said. « I wish we didn’t have to do that now. »
The Republican proposal would overturn a Defense Department policy enacted after the Supreme Court struck down the constitutional right to abortion last year, sparking a rush by some states to impose limits and bans on the procedure. The policy reimburses travel expenses for staff who have to travel out of state to obtain an abortion or related services. The policy does not provide any money for abortions.
Democrats have pointed to the vote as a prime example of Republicans taking votes that could ultimately cost them a House majority. Strategists from both parties have suggested that the Supreme Court’s abortion decision and subsequent efforts by Democrats to spotlight Republican opposition to abortion rights weakened the GOP during last year’s election, costing them support. of independent and suburban voters.
« For the swing districts they represent, they should be doing the opposite, but they don’t, » said Courtney Rice, communications director for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. « Their decision to put party politics on portfolio issues will cost them the House in 2024. »
Many vulnerable House Republicans said they consoled themselves with the knowledge that amendments focused on fueling battles over social issues would likely be dropped from the bill by the Democrat-controlled Senate and not be in a final version of the health bill. defense policy.
« That wouldn’t be how I would run the place, but at the end of the day as long as we get through the NDAA like we have and keep the nasty poison pills out, I think that solves the problem, » said Rep. Tony Gonzales, Republican of the Texas, refers to the defense bill by the initials of its full name. Mr. Gonzales, who voted in favor of the abortion amendment and others that ban transgender health services and limit diversity training for military personnel, voted against amendments that sought to cut funding for Ukraine .
Sarah Chamberlain, chair of the Republican Main Street Partnership, an outside organization allied with the Congressional Republican Main Street Caucus, described the vote as a « calculated risk » for many members who bet it wouldn’t hurt them politically.
« They decided it was more important to them to get this bill out of the House than to fall to their sword on this one, » he said. « They would have preferred these amendments not to exist, but I think they can defend their vote because they support the men and women of the military. »
Still, it’s not the first time vulnerable Republicans have caved in to their party’s far right, even when it means taking votes that could prove to be political responsibilities down the line. Mr McCarthy, who has worked overtime to appease the right flank he needs to stay in power — most of whom represent GOP-safe districts — has done relatively little to protect more mainstream Republicans whose seats are at risk. having to take hard grades.
In April, they voted for McCarthy’s bill to raise the debt ceiling for a year in exchange for spending cuts and policy changes, even as it gutted programs that helped veterans and the elderly.
Last month they voted in support of a resolution that would repeal a Biden administration rule that tightened federal regulations on brace stabilization for firearms that have been used in several mass shootings. House leaders introduced the bill to help end a week-long lockout by far-right Republicans.
Still, the level of GOP support for the abortion amendment — only two Republicans, Rep. John Duarte of California and Brian Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania, voted against it — came as a shock to Democrats.
« There are those across the hall who realize this is bad, » said Rep. Mikie Sherrill of New Jersey, a former Navy helicopter pilot who is one of two female House Democrats who have loaned service in the army. Ms. Sherrill said she has heard some fellow Republicans tell her privately, « ‘This is a really bad idea, this is a mistake.’ So why did everyone but two people vote for this bad amendment? »
Representative Chrissie Houlahan, a Democrat from Pennsylvania and a former Air Force officer, said she was « surprised at how few people voted against the amendment. I expected 15 Republicans to do the right thing. »
Some more traditional Republicans tried to justify their votes by arguing that they weren’t voting against abortion or transgender healthcare, just against government funding for it.
« If you look at the polls, most Americans don’t think the federal government should pay for abortions, » said Congresswoman Stephanie Bice, an Oklahoma Republican and vice chair of the Main Street Caucus.
Rep. Don Bacon, a Nebraska Republican, said he supported the provision banning military coverage for gender transition surgeries and hormone therapy because he believed, « If you want to do it, do it with your money. »
« I don’t think it should be the taxpayers’ responsibility, » Bacon added.