House GOP adds culture war amendments to annual defense bill

House GOP adds culture war amendments to annual defense bill

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to reflect that Rep. Tony Gonzales (R-Texas) mistakenly voted “no” on an amendment offered by Rep. Matt Rosendale (R-Mont.) but has filed a note to the congressional record saying he intended to vote “yes,” according to a spokesperson.

House Republicans added a host of culture war amendments to the annual defense bill on Thursday, complicating the traditionally bipartisan measure’s path to final passage later this year.

Among the additions to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) approved on Thursday was a measure to block a Biden administration policy to reimburse service members for the travel costs when obtaining an abortion. The amendment, led by Rep. Beth Van Duyne (R-Texas), is a top priority for conservatives and passed 214-207.

Reps. John Duarte (R-Calif.) and Brian Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.) were the lone GOP “no” votes, while Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas) was the only Democrat to support the amendment.

The House also approved amendments to ban the Pentagon from providing gender-affirming care to transgender people, and to dismantle diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) offices and positions.

Those measures are all but sure to sink Democratic support for the bill when it comes to the House floor on Friday — even though it passed by a near-unanimous vote out of committee — a dynamic that will force GOP leaders to rely on their slim majority to get the legislation over the finish line.

“Amendments like this cheapen the National Defense Authorization Act,” Rep. Mikie Sherrill (D-N.J.) said during debate of the Van Duyne abortion services reimbursement amendment. “Once again, this majority has chosen not to treat matters of national security with the seriousness with which they deserve to be treated, and they are choosing to use that National Defense Authorization Act to shove their extremist culture war agenda down the throats of the American people.”

Van Duyne, though, said that her amendment is about going back to longtime policy with the same principles as the Hyde amendment, a repeatedly approved policy rider that prohibits federal funds from being spent on abortion.

“I would ask my kind colleagues to tell me, please, how supporting and paying out of [Department of Defense] funds for a woman to travel across the country to get an abortion has anything to do with protecting our national security,” Van Duyne said.

House Republicans can only afford to lose two of their own on any party-line measures if all lawmakers are present, leaving leaders with little room for error when the NDAA hits the floor for a final vote.

Even if the House’s NDAA clears the chamber on Friday, it is not expected to move in the Democratic-controlled Senate — where there is no appetite for the culture war amendments added Thursday — setting the stage for a House vs. Senate showdown.

The Senate Armed Services Committee is still working on its version of the NDAA, and text is not expected to be released until July, a spokesperson for the panel told The Hill on Thursday.

One of the amendments added to the NDAA on Thursday seeks to remove the position of chief diversity officer at the Pentagon and prevent any similar job from being established. The chamber approved the measure, introduced by Rep. Brian Higgins (R-N.Y.), in a 214-210 vote.

Fitzpatrick and Reps. Lori Chavez-DeRemer (R-Ore.), Thomas Kean Jr. (R-N.J.) and Mike Turner (R-Ohio) joined all Democrats in voting “no.”

Another amendment, led by Rep. Ralph Norman (R-S.C.), called for eliminating any offices of diversity, equity and inclusion within the armed forces and Pentagon, and removing officials who work in those offices. The measure cleared the chamber 211-208 after lawmakers had to revote on the amendment.

The first vote on the Norman amendment ended in a 212-212 tie, which in the House is a loss. The clerk’s office, however, determined that the votes of delegates were decisive in the final vote, prompting the chamber to hold a second vote on the measure, which passed.

Fitzpatrick, Chavez-DeRemer, Turner and Reps. Don Bacon (R-Neb.) and Jay Obernolte (R-Calif.) sided with all Democrats in opposing the measure.

Republicans also targeted transgender medical care through amendments. One measure led by Rep. Matt Rosendale (R-Mont.) called for prohibiting TRICARE — the health care program for active duty service members — from covering gender transition surgeries and gender hormone treatments for individuals who identify as transgender.

The amendment cleared the chamber in a 213-206 vote. One Democrat, Cuellar, voted “yes.” One Republican, Rep. Tony Gonzales (Texas), mistakenly voted “no,” but has filed a note to the congressional record saying he intended to vote “yes,” according to a spokesperson.

The NDAA’s path thus far is mirroring the process last year, when House Republicans approved their version of the legislation that included a number of culture war amendments, only to have them be stripped out in the compromise measure crafted by top lawmakers in both chambers. The final product passed the House in a bipartisan 310-118 vote.

A few controversial amendments, however, did squeak through, including measures to restrict “critical race theory” at military academies and ban unauthorized flags on military bases, having the effect of prohibiting the flying of LGBTQ flags.

Some culture war amendments were also added to this year’s House NDAA ahead of Thursday evening’s votes.

On Wednesday, lawmakers voted in favor of an amendment sponsored by Rep. Chip Roy (R-Texas) that bans any funds in the legislation from being used to implement a slew of President Biden’s climate change executive orders. It passed in a 215-210 vote, with one Democrat — Rep. Mary Peltola (Alaska) — voting “yes,” and two Republicans, Fitzpatrick and Chavez-DeRemer, opposing the measure.

Rep. Robert Garcia (D-Calif.) used an eye-catching visual aide to protest an amendment to ban funds from being spent on drag shows and “drag queen story hours”: A poster showing former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani in drag, next to former President Trump.

“We know inclusion in our military is good for our country. We want to welcome anyone who wants to serve. I would invite my Republican colleagues to join me at a drag show in the future. You’ll see that drag is not a threat to anyone,” Garcia said.

That amendment was approved by a voice vote.

Democrats are already going after Republicans — especially those in tough reelection races — for supporting culture war amendments in the defense legislation, especially Van Duyne’s abortion measure.

“If it’s a day that ends in ‘Y,’ House Republicans will vote for national abortion restrictions,” Viet Shelton, spokesperson for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, said in a statement. “They are more interested in attacking the reproductive freedoms of our country’s service members than ensuring our troops have the support they need, and voters won’t forget how wrong these attacks are when they head to the polls in November.”

Updated at 7:10 p.m.

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