The House voted Thursday evening to adopt several controversial amendments pushed by conservative hardliners to a critical national defense bill as the fate of the must-pass legislation hangs in the balance.
Passage of the amendments – which touch on hot-button social issues, including abortion policy – is expected to cost Democratic votes and could potentially imperil final passage of the legislation, unless House Republicans are able to largely unite behind the measure to get it across the finish line. With only a narrow majority, House Republicans could only afford a few defections from within their ranks if there is no support from Democrats.
If the House passes the defense bill – known as the National Defense Authorization Act – it would still need to be reconciled with the Democratic-controlled Senate.
One of the most high-profile amendment that was adopted by the House would prohibit the secretary of defense from paying for or reimbursing expenses relating to abortion services. Many Democrats made clear ahead of the vote that if the amendment was included as part of the defense bill, they would be unlikely to support final passage.
House GOP leaders made a major concession to conservative hardliners by allowing votes on the most controversial amendments.
House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, a California Republican, 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.”
Democrats had been expected to peel off in droves from backing the underlying bill if the abortion amendment was 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, had warned Republicans there won’t be Democratic support if the House adopts a GOP amendment to strike down the Pentagon’s abortion policy.
“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 CNN.
This story and headline have been updated to reflect additional developments.