House Dems And Swing District GOPers May Sink Defense Spending Bill Over Anti-Abortion Amendment

WASHINGTON, DC - JULY 13: U.S. Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) speaks to reporters as he walks to his office in the U.S. Capitol Building on July 13, 2023 in Washington, DC. The House of Representatives ar... WASHINGTON, DC - JULY 13: U.S. Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) speaks to reporters as he walks to his office in the U.S. Capitol Building on July 13, 2023 in Washington, DC. The House of Representatives are voting on multiple amendments to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that pertain to issues related to Ukraine funding, abortion access and gender-affirming care for members of the military, and climate change. (Photo by Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images) MORE LESS
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The House passed an amendment Thursday afternoon, by a 221-213 vote, officially adding a provision to limit abortion access for military personnel to the National Defense Authorization Act — the legislation that authorizes the annual budget for the U.S. military, which congressional leaders aim to pass each year without drama. 

This is one of a set of amendments — 80 to be exact — that MAGA House Republicans are pushing to add to the annual defense policy bill, which is often described as “must-pass” legislation. In addition to restricting access to abortions, the far-right lawmakers hope to end diversity training for military personnel and to limit funding for gender affirming surgeries and treatments.

The votes — which are expected to last late into Thursday night — will decide whether the long list of far-right messaging demands will be included in the House’s final defense spending bill. 

As the far-right has insisted on pushing their stunt, it’s raised the question of whether Republicans from competitive districts will go along. 

“If we want to fight out social policies, have cultural wars, they should be done outside the NDAA,” Rep. Nick LaLota (R-NY), who represents a swing district, told CNN

But even after showing dissatisfaction, LaLota voted for the abortion amendment. Only two Republicans — Reps. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA) and John Duarte (R-CA) — voted with Democrats to oppose the abortion amendment. Democrat Henry Cuellar (D-TX) supported the amendment.

Meanwhile, House Democratic Whip Rep. Katherine Clark (D-MA) made clear on Thursday morning that there won’t be any support for the military spending bill from Democratic lawmakers if the House adopts the amendment to stop the Pentagon from providing time off and reimbursement to military personnel traveling out of state to get an abortion.

“What we’re seeing now, the GOP once again choosing extremism, making abortion and women’s health care and freedom in this country the issue that they put over our national security,” Clarke said, according to CNN. “I don’t see Democrats supporting an NDAA with that in it.”

House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) also chimed in Thursday, saying, “It is outrageous this is what Republicans are doing with a defense bill. It should be about national security.”

He added he is against efforts to “restrict a woman’s freedom to make her own reproductive health care decisions.”

McCarthy has seen this movie before. The same group of people who made McCarthy beg for the speaker’s gavel for 4 days and 15 rounds of voting, and the same people who held the nation’s debt limit hostage until they got their demands met, are at it again, throwing a wrench into what is historically a drama-free set of votes in the House. 

And even after the hostage taking over the debt ceiling, the MAGA hardliners were so upset that McCarthy gave up the hostage-taking gambit and compromised with Democrats that a group of them rebelled on the House floor, purposely sinking a procedural rule vote in the Republican-controlled House in retaliation. In response, Republican leadership had to cancel planned votes for the rest of that week, crippling the House schedule and effectively blocking their own party from passing messaging legislation.

On brand with their hostage taking, on Monday, 21 members of the House Freedom Caucus sent McCarthy a letter with a list of demands to make cuts in the upcoming government funding bill, alongside a threat to vote against the defense bill if they don’t get what they want. 

The letter demanded that McCarthy strike the agreement he made with President Biden around the debt ceiling and authorize federal spending at lower levels than the two agreed to.

The Freedom Caucus’ latest stunt forced McCarthy to, yet again, give concessions to the far-right flank of his caucus and allow them to try to get the votes to make some last-minute changes to the defense bill. On Wednesday, the Speaker agreed to allow a floor vote on the 80 different amendments, once again making it clear that the MAGA lawmakers will continue to flex their power with the House GOP’s razor-thin majority.

But despite everything, even if most of the far-right amendments make it, House Democrats will likely try to sink the defense policy bill before it even gets to the Senate. And even if it did manage to pass the House, it would almost certainly fail to pass a Democratic-led Senate and get President Biden’s signature. 

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