House Republicans are taking a risky path as they gear up for a series of controversial amendment votes that threaten to put the fate of a critical defense policy bill in jeopardy.
In a major concession to conservative hardliners, GOP leaders are moving ahead with a series of votes on amendments ranging from rescinding the Pentagon’s policy of reimbursing travel for individuals who seek abortions out of state to barring Department of Defense health care from covering the cost of gender affirming health care.
In making the concession to conservatives, however, GOP leaders risk alienating moderate Republicans and Democrats whose votes they may need to advance the must-pass defense bill, the National Defense Authorization Act. The GOP majority operates with only a narrow majority, and House Speaker Kevin McCarthy faces pressure on all sides.
It’s not clear whether, or which, controversial amendments will have the votes they need to be included in the NDAA, but for Republicans running in swing districts, having to take votes on these issues is a careful balancing act.
New York Rep. Nick LaLota told CNN he had not made up his mind about whether he could back a roll back of the Pentagon’s reimbursement policy, but warned the issues didn’t belong in the NDAA.
LaLota argued the point of the NDAA was ensuring the US had a strong military against countries like China. “Some of these amendments are distractions from that,” he said. “If these are going to be policy issues … they should be done outside the NDAA.”
LaLota would not say how he plans to vote on the controversial abortion amendment.
McCarthy has defended his strategy of allowing controversial amendments put forward by the right flank, telling CNN’s Manu Raju that members “actually have a voice with what the bill will look like at the very end. It doesn’t predetermine what will be in the bill.”
The House cleared a key procedural hurdle Thursday afternoon to pave the way for the additional amendments to be considered.
It’s not just Republicans who may have to take tough votes. Democrats are expected to peel off in droves of backing the underlying bill if the abortion amendment is adopted as part of the NDAA, something that could put vulnerable members in a position of having to defend back home why they ultimately didn’t back a Pentagon policy bill that includes pay raises for members of the military and future investments in military infrastructure.
“It’s not ideal. I always support the NDAA,” one Democrat said on the condition of background to speak freely about their political predicament. “It sucks, but I have to make a decision. That’s what I am weighing. I have to figure it out. Republicans are making the NDAA a culture war bill, but at the same time I’ve always voted for pay raises so this is a challenge.”
Rep. Katherine Clark, the House Democratic whip, warned Republicans there won’t be any Democratic support if the House adopts a GOP amendment to strike down the Pentagon’s abortion policy – potentially sinking the bill authorizing defense and national security programs.
“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. So we’ll see how this plays out and what amendments are taken up but I don’t see Democrats supporting an NDAA with that in it,” Clark told Raju.