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House passes defense bill after GOP adopts abortion and transgender surgery amendments

The amendments would ban the Pentagon from paying for or reimbursing abortion-related expenses and transgender surgeries and hormone treatments for service members.
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WASHINGTON — The House narrowly passed an annual defense policy bill on Friday after Republicans added provisions to bar Pentagon spending on abortion and transgender surgeries — measures that were a nonstarter for Democrats.

The legislation, which will have to be reconciled with the Senate version of the bill, passed in a 219-210 vote.

Four Republicans voted against the bill: Ken Buck of Colorado; Andy Biggs and Eli Crane of Arizona; and Thomas Massie of Kentucky. Four Democrats voted with most Republicans in favor: Donald Davis of North Carolina; Jared Golden of Maine; Marie Gluesenkamp Perez of Washington; and Gabe Vasquez of New Mexico.

Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., who said Thursday night that she would oppose the bill, voted "yes" on Friday, saying the reason for her change of heart was that Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., promised her a seat on the conference committee that will hash out the differences between the House and Senate versions of the bill.

Greene, who is opposed to additional funding for Ukraine, said her goal in the conference committee will be to convince her colleagues that if more money for the war-torn country should be offered as part of a separate supplemental funding package.

McCarthy celebrated the passage of the legislation at a press conference, saying "radical programs" that have impacted U.S. troops "at the expense of readiness" would be eliminated. He also said cutting-edge technology would receive more investment.

McCarthy also attacked Democrats, saying they should "stop using taxpayer money to do their own woke-ism. A military cannot defend themselves if you train them in woke. We don’t want Disneyland to train our military."

House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., slammed Republicans over the conservative amendments.

"It is woefully irresponsible that extreme MAGA Republicans have hijacked a bipartisan bill that is essential to our national security, and taken it over and weaponized it in order to jam their extreme right-wing ideology down the throats of the American people," he said at his weekly press conference.

The amendments, adopted Thursday, would ban the secretary of defense from paying for or reimbursing service members for abortion-related expenses and transgender surgeries and hormone treatments.

The abortion amendment, sponsored by Rep. Ronny Jackson, R-Texas, was approved largely along party lines in a 221-213 vote. Rep. Henry Cuellar, a Texas Democrat, joined Republicans in voting to adopt the amendment, while two Republicans, John Duarte of California and Brian Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania, opposed the measure.

The House also narrowly adopted an amendment sponsored by Rep. Matt Rosendale, R-Mont., that would bar military health insurance and the Department of Defense from providing or covering transgender surgeries and hormone treatments for transgender people.

Two amendments were adopted Friday morning before final passage. One would bar military service academies from using federal funds to discriminate or establish quotas on the basis of race or ethnicity in academy admissions. The other would prohibit the Defense Department from carrying out President Joe Biden’s climate change executive orders.

The defense legislation will eventually need to be reconciled with a version of the bill under consideration in the Senate. Sen. Tommy Tuberville, R-Ala., is seeking a similar measure to block Pentagon payments or reimbursements for abortion services, which Senate Democrats are unlikely to back.

House Freedom Caucus Chairman Scott Perry, R-Pa., said Friday that his members wouldn't give in to a bipartisan compromise.

"We are not going to back down. We’re not going to give up on the cause that is righteous and we’re going to keep fighting for it," Perry said at a press conference with members of the conservative caucus. "The military is not the place for a social experiment. The military needs to be focused on readiness and lethality, and all these other things are distractors from that and harm our national security."

The amendments in the House, championed by some of the chamber's most conservative Republicans, were approved for floor consideration by the House Rules Committee earlier this week in what was seen as a major victory for the right flank of the House GOP.

House Democratic Caucus Chairman Pete Aguilar, D-Calif., told reporters on Thursday that he would vote against the NDAA, adding, "I don’t think I’ve not voted for an NDAA.”

Rep. Pat Ryan, D-N.Y., who serves on the House Armed Services Committee, said the panel worked to pass a bipartisan bill “and then the far right hijacked this, hijacked our national security. And this makes our country less secure, less safe, and it’s an insult to all of our women in uniform. So I’m a no, and I think almost all my Democratic colleagues will be a no.”

In a statement Friday night, White House spokesperson Andrew Bates used similar language in accusing Tuberville and other Republicans of “hijacking” the bill and "devolving it into a hardcore rightwing wishlist."

“Holding America’s military readiness — as well as service members and their families — hostage to an extreme, divisive political agenda undermines our national security and disrespects the sacrifices that those who wear the uniform,” Bates said. “Harm to every service branch is mounting daily. It’s imperative for congressional Republicans to put country over party.”