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House GOP moves to end Pentagon’s abortion, diversity policies

Congress’s decades-long streak of bipartisan support for its annual defense policy and spending plan appeared on the brink of collapse Thursday night as House Republicans moved to bar the Pentagon from reimbursing military personnel who travel out of state to obtain an abortion, a move Democrats have called a red line that would force them to vote against the $886 billion legislation.

Republicans, who maintain a narrow majority in the House, also approved amendments to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that would prohibit federal funds from being used for specialized health care required by transgender troops or their families, and for the military’s diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) programs. Those moves, too, are nonstarters for many Democrats, who have argued that the Pentagon’s social programs help make military service more attractive in an era when the Defense Department is struggling to recruit and retain top talent.

“This amendment … is the Republican Party’s backdoor effort to create a national abortion ban,” Rep. Veronica Escobar (D-Tex.) said Thursday in remarks on the House floor.

“It hurts our military readiness, recruitment and retention and morale,” said Rep. Sara Jacobs (D-Calif.)

“It’s really sad that the Republican Party doesn’t understand that diversity matters,” Rep. Adam Smith (Wash.), top Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee, which drafted the defense bill, told The Washington Post. “They basically are dismissing the LGBTQ community and women and people of color.”

Smith said he will not vote for the bill that he helped to write.

GOP leaders now face an exceedingly narrow path to winning approval for the House version of the defense bill, long seen in Washington as one of the few must-pass pieces of legislation Congress takes up each year. Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) will probably need to muster 218 of his party’s 222-person majority to get that done or risk an embarrassing defeat.

“It’s a great bill, and I’d love to vote for it, but it still has my red line and that was funding for Ukraine,” Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.), who has informed House leadership of her intention to oppose the final draft, told reporters late Thursday.

Greene is among the small but vocal bloc of conservatives in Congress who bitterly oppose the tens of billions of dollars in U.S. military aid, training and other support supplied to the government in Kyiv as it resists invading Russian forces and seeks to reclaim territory that Moscow has declared its own. Their proposals to halt U.S. assistance for Ukraine failed to gain much traction, as most Republicans and Democrats remain aghast at the Russian military’s brutal assault on civilians and the country’s vital infrastructure.

Rep. Joe Wilson (R-S.C.), on multiple occasions, took to the House floor to remind colleagues that Putin is a “war criminal” and that the Ukraine war is part of a larger struggle of “authoritarians versus democracies.”

Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.), who has opposed every bill supporting Ukraine since the war started last year, noted that he never voted for the annual Pentagon policy bill during his first 10 years in Congress, but on Thursday he declared himself in the undecided column. “You never say what you’ll never do. I don’t know,” he said.

Anger surged on the House floor amid the debate over other hard-right proposals that did pass, transforming the chamber of America’s democracy into a battleground in the country’s increasingly polarizing culture wars.

Republicans accused Democrats of “idiocy” and “weakening” the nation’s armed forces with policies promoting diversity and protection of LGBTQ rights. Democrats called their Republican colleagues “racist” and “bigoted.”

“The military was never intended to be inclusive. Its strength is not its diversity. Its strength is its standards,” said Rep. Eli Crane (R-Ariz.). He likened efforts to promote diversity in the armed forces to “lowering our standards,” arguing in a floor speech for passage of his amendment to prohibit from the Defense Department from requiring diversity training.

“My amendment has nothing to do with whether or not colored people or Black people or anybody can serve,” Crane added. His remarks drew an immediate rebuke from Rep. Joyce Beatty (D-Ohio), former chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus, who demanded that the racist, Jim Crow-era term “colored people” be struck from the official record of the day’s proceedings.

Crane subsequently asked to amend his comments to “people of color.”

“What about us scares you?” Rep. Jill N. Tokuda (D-Hawaii) asked from the House floor. “My grandfather, my father-in-law, my brother, they all fought and risked their lives for this country. Yet the sacrifices made by so many who feel marginalized — our communities of color — simply pale in comparison to the hate and fear that drives this obsession with DEI.”

It’s unclear what will happen next. If Republicans do muster the support needed to pass the defense policy bill, with a vote possible as soon as Friday, the legislation is probably doomed in its current form.

The Senate, where Democrats are in the majority, is expected to vote next week on its version of the legislation — which lacks the divisive components currently in the House measure. The two bodies will then need to reconcile the bills’ differences, and President Biden is highly unlikely to sign into a law one containing the House culture-war riders.

Rep. Nancy Mace (R-S.C.), who has repeatedly spoken against her party’s stance against abortion, said she was “pissed off” about the abortion amendment.

But she sided with her party and voted for it anyway. “This amendment dies in the Senate and does nothing. Except put the NDAA at risk of passing,” she texted.

Marianna Sotomayor contributed to this report.

This post appeared first on The Washington Post

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