WASHINGTON ― House Democrats are jumping ship on the traditionally bipartisan defense authorization bill after Republicans passed amendments overturning the Pentagon’s new abortion travel policy and restricting transgender medical care.
Republican leaders put the amendments to the fiscal 2024 National Defense Authorization Act on the floor to placate the Freedom Caucus, which had threatened to stall procedural votes on the $874 billion bill.
An amendment from Rep. Ronny Jackson, R-Texas, passed 221-213 to ban the military from providing troops with paid travel leave to receive abortions in states where it’s no longer legal. Another amendment from Rep. Matt Rosendale, R-Mont., passed 222-211 to ban sex reassignment surgery and hormone therapy for transgender troops.
“It’s outrageous that a tiny minority of Republicans is getting to dictate what exact amendments come to the floor,” said Rep. James McGovern of Massachusetts, the top Democrat on the Rules Committee, which controls floor amendments. There are at least 45 members in the Freedom Caucus. McGovern accused Republicans of turning a “bipartisan bill to a hyper-partisan one by loading it up with every divisive social issue under the sun.”
After the amendments passed, Democrats who usually support the defense bill announced that they would now vote against final passage. The House’s No. 3 Democrat, Rep. Pete Aguilar of California, said he would vote against the final bill because of the amendments. Rep. Adam Smith of Washington, the top Democrat on the Armed Services Committee who helped usher it to the floor last month, told Defense News that he would now vote against it as well.
Rep. Jason Crow, D-Colo., a veteran and Armed Services Committee member supportive of the original bill, also vowed to vote no.
“I’m not going to support a bill that directly attacks the men and women who have sworn an oath to defend this country and give their life to this country,” said Crow. “I’m not going to bail Republicans out.”
The loss of Democratic support means Republicans can only afford a few defections within their party for final passage and rely on fiscal conservatives who typically oppose the defense bill. Earlier on Thursday, House Oversight Committee Republicans held a hearing hammering the Pentagon for its repeated failures to pass an audit, highlighting the growing clout among fiscal conservatives within the party.
But Rules Committee Chairman Tom Cole, R-Ark., told Defense News “I feel pretty good about where we’re at,” expressing optimism Republicans would stick together and pass the final bill in a vote expected on Friday.
The House Appropriations Committee advanced a separate defense spending bill in June over Democratic objections to similar language that would overturn the Pentagon’s abortion and transgender medical care policies. Should the House pass defense legislation overturning those policies, it will run into opposition from the Democratic-held Senate and the White House.
However, the Freedom Caucus failed to secure enough support to ban Ukraine military aid. An amendment from Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., to impose a blanket ban on all security aid to Kyiv failed 70-358.
A narrower provision from Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., would have cut $300 million in long-term aid to Kyiv from the bill’s Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative. The Taylor Greene amendment also failed 89-341.
The House also voted down 217-198 an amendment from Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., that would have undone the bill’s language restricting the Biden administration’s efforts to retire the B83 megaton gravity bomb, which is 80 to 100 times more powerful than the bomb the U.S. dropped on Hiroshima. Blumenauer’s amendment put him in line with the White House, which released a statement earlier this week asking Congress to remove the B83 language.
The House Rules Committee has put 370 amendments to the bill on the floor and votes are expected to continue through Friday.
Bryant Harris is the Congress reporter for Defense News. He has covered U.S. foreign policy, national security, international affairs and politics in Washington since 2014. He has also written for Foreign Policy, Al-Monitor, Al Jazeera English and IPS News.