Democratic leaders speak at a press conference

Democratic Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.), flanked by Democratic Caucus Chair Rep. Pete Aguilar (D-Calif.), Minority Whip Rep. Katherine Clark (D-Mass.) speaks during a press conference on May 24, 2023 in Washington, D.C.

(Photo: Ricky Carioti/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

Democrats Rally Against Military Policy Bill Over 'Extreme and Reckless' GOP Amendments

Top Democrats ripped House Republicans for using the National Defense Authorization Act to jam "their right-wing ideology down the throats of the American people."

The three leading Democrats in the House said in a joint statement late Thursday that they will vote no on an annual military policy bill that typically passes with overwhelming bipartisan support, citing Republican amendments restricting abortion access for service members and barring the Pentagon from covering gender-affirming care.

"Extreme MAGA Republicans have chosen to hijack the historically bipartisan National Defense Authorization Act to continue attacking reproductive freedom and jamming their right-wing ideology down the throats of the American people," House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.), Democratic Whip Katherine Clark (D-Mass.), and Caucus Chair Pete Aguilar (D-Calif.) said following hours of votes on mostly Republican-authored amendments.

One Democrat, Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas), voted with Republicans to attach an amendment to roll back the Pentagon's policy of reimbursing service members who travel to obtain abortion care. The amendment was sponsored by Rep. Ronny Jackson (R-Texas), who previously served as former President Donald Trump's chief medical adviser.

Cuellar also backed Rep. Matt Rosendale's (R-Mont.) amendment to block the Department of Defense from covering gender-affirming care.

“House Republicans have turned what should be a meaningful investment in our men and women in uniform into an extreme and reckless legislative joyride," Jeffries, Clark, and Aguilar said Thursday. "The bill undermines a woman's freedom to seek abortion care, targets the rights of LGBTQ+ service members, and bans books that should otherwise be available to military families."

In opposing final passage of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), the top Democrats are joining progressive lawmakers who usually vote no on the annual military policy bill due to its sky-high and ever-rising topline. The NDAA for the coming fiscal year would authorize $886 billion in total military spending, with $842 billion going to the Pentagon.

"I was the only person to vote no on committee out of 59 on the bloated defense bill," Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) tweeted Thursday, referring to the House Armed Service's Committee's vote last month. "After amendments attacking abortion rights and trans rights, looks like my Dem colleagues may join me. Sometimes, it's okay to stand alone on principle."

Mounting Democratic opposition to the NDAA means Republicans could have to secure enough votes to pass the bill out of the House along party lines, a potentially difficult task given the intransigence of far-right members. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) said Thursday that she intends to vote no after her amendment to strike $300 million in Ukraine aid from the NDAA failed to pass.

Another amendment led by Greene—a proposal to ban the U.S. government from selling or transferring cluster munitions to Ukraine—also failed Thursday, though it did receive the support of 49 Democrats, including Reps. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), and Jim McGovern (D-Mass.).

The failure of Greene's cluster bombs amendment came after Republicans on the House Rules Committee blocked consideration of a broader proposal led by Rep. Sara Jacobs (D-Calif.) and Omar that would have prohibited the U.S. from transferring cluster munitions worldwide.

The Pentagon said Thursday that U.S. cluster munitions have arrived in Ukraine, days after President Joe Biden approved their transfer in the face of protests from human rights groups and members of his own party.

"Kevin McCarthy may be the MAGA ringmaster, but it is clear that the clowns have taken over the circus."

A final House vote on the NDAA is expected Friday. The Senate still needs to pass its version of the bill, and the two chambers must reconcile the differences.

Progressives voiced outrage over House Republicans' decision to turn the NDAA into another vehicle for their broader war on reproductive rights and LGBTQ people.

"They showed their complete disregard for our LGBTQ+ service members by adopting amendments that strip medically necessary care from transgender service members and their families, censor LGBTQ+ service members by prohibiting the display of Pride flags, and ban books that include transgender people or discuss gender identity," said Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.), chair of the Congressional Equality Caucus. "These riders cannot stand, and my colleagues and I will use every tool to get them removed during conference."

Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) noted on Twitter that Rules Committee Republicans prevented a House vote on her proposals to cut the Pentagon budget by $100 billion, rein in rampant price gouging by defense contractors, and repeal the 2002 Authorization for Use of Military Force in Iraq as they advanced their attacks on abortion access, gender-affirming care, diversity programs, climate action, and more.

In scathing remarks on the House floor ahead of Thursday's votes, McGovern—the top Democrat on the House Rules Committee—blasted "MAGA wingnuts" who "threw a fit and hijacked" the NDAA to advance their far-right agenda.

"It's outrageous that a tiny minority of Republicans is getting to dictate exactly what amendments come to the floor," McGovern said. "Kevin McCarthy may be the MAGA ringmaster, but it is clear that the clowns have taken over the circus."

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