House GOP Ekes Out Passage of Defense Bill Caught in Culture War

  • Senate to take up its version of must-pass bill next week
  • Hard-liners press McCarthy on abortion, LGBTQ rights

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US House Republicans approved the annual defense authorization bill on a tight, largely party-line vote after Democrats rebelled against the measure, which bans the Pentagon’s travel policy for abortions and includes other social issues.

The massive defense policy measure, which passed 219-210, became a magnet for culture wars over far-right House Republican demands to load the crucial national security legislation with hot-button topics. Four Democrats voted in favor of the must-pass measure, while four Republicans voted against it.

“Anything that detracts from the mission, which is to protect our nation and make us the most effective fighting force on earth, is a distraction and a waste of money,” Rep. Matt Rosendale (R-Mont.) said on Twitter. “And that includes rainbow bullets on a helmet!”

A small band of hard-liners pressured Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) to require votes on amendments dealing with abortion access, LGBTQ rights, and racial diversity initiatives as the chamber considered the legislation, which sets Pentagon policy and prescribes military spending for the fiscal year that starts Oct. 1. Republicans were largely successful in adopting those amendments, turning Democrats against the bill that normally enjoys bipartisan support.

Chip Roy, a Texas Republican who sits on the Rules Committee, was instrumental in forcing the amendment votes on the social policy issues. “These are a lot of very good common-sense amendments,” he said. “They cover the gamut of issues that the people of America care about.”

Photographer: Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images
House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) participates in a photo line with tourists at the US Capitol on July 13, 2023 in Washington.

“What was once an example of compromise and functioning government has become an ode to bigotry and ignorance,” Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.), the top Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee, and other subcommittee ranking members said in a statement explaining their vote against the bill they worked on.

“Attacks on reproductive rights, access to basic health care, and efforts to address our country’s history of racism and marginalization of huge swaths of our country will worsen our recruitment and retention crisis, make our military less capable, and do grievous harm to our national defense and national security.”

Rep. Ronny Jackson (R-Texas) said on the floor Friday that criticism of the controversial amendments are unfounded because they “return us to the combat-readiness attitude” the US military used to have.

Earlier: House Republicans Turn Key Defense Bill Into Culture War Battle

House Democratic leaders also issued a statement late Thursday saying they would vote against the bill, which had turned into “an extreme and reckless legislative joyride.”

Overall, the authorization measure (H.R. 2670) included $886 billion for national security programs, in keeping with the debt limit deal President Joe Biden struck with McCarthy. About $874.2 billion would go to national defense programs, with the rest of the money for other defense-related activities.

The Democratic-led Senate will consider its version of the annual defense policy bill next week. The legislation, authorizing troop pay increases and military construction projects, and setting weapons and geostrategic policies, has won enactment for decades. To achieve that, the two chambers must agree on the final version. Negotiators on the final bill may drop the provisions on abortion and transgender care to clear the way for passage.

Read More: BGOV OnPoint: House Readies Fiscal 2024 Defense Authorization

Ukraine Security Aid

The US House defeated conservative Republicans’ efforts to cut off security assistance to Ukraine that was authorized in the bill, displaying a wall of support across both political parties for that country’s fight against Russia’s invasion.

Ukraine Keeps Support in US House Despite Far-Right GOP Effort

The measure would seek creation of a special inspector general for Ukraine security assistance.

The legislation would also press the Pentagon to send the Army Tactical Missile System to Ukraine. The Biden administration so far has been reluctant to send the more capable missile system made by Lockheed Martin Ukraine for fear that its reach could strike into Russia, escalating the war — but also because of concerns of drawing too much from the US weapons stockpile. ATACMS — a long-range guided missile — has a reach of 190 miles, or 300 kilometers.

Abortion Access

The Republican conference stuck together to adopt an amendment by Jackson to bar the use of military funds for any travel expenses and leave to assist service members seeking an abortion. Only two Republicans—Reps. Brian Fitzpatrick (Pa.) and John Duarte (Calif.)—voted against the amendment and one Democrat—Rep. Henry Cuellar (Texas) voted in favor. Hard-line GOP members also prevailed on amendments to curtail health care for transgender troops.

The defense measure would help reinstate troops who were kicked out for refusing the Covid-19 vaccine. Congress undid the Pentagon’s vaccine mandate in the 2023 defense authorization measure (Public Law 117-263). But at the time, it didn’t include language regarding those service members who were discharged for not following the earlier vaccine mandate.

The bill would block a requirement that defense contractors disclose greenhouse gas emissions and climate-related financial risk in the bidding process. It would also prohibit use of funds for any advisory committees related to environmental, social, and governance issues.

Ships and F-35 Aicraft

The House measure would authorize 10 ships for the Navy, including additional funding authorization for an amphibious vessel that the Navy didn’t request, and incremental funding for new submarine tenders. The San Antonio-class amphibious transport dock ships are made by HII, formerly known as Huntington Ingalls Industries Inc., in Mississippi, the home state of Rep. Trent Kelly. The Republican chairman of the House Armed Services Seapower and Projection Forces Subcommittee received bipartisan support for the addition.

The omission in the Pentagon’s budget request of amphibious vessels has driven a wedge between the Navy and Marine Corps. The Navy says it can’t afford to buy the ship, while the Marine Corps argues it needs the vessels for its global missions.

The House measure also would prevent the early retirement of two cruisers and three amphibious ships, and would block half the Navy’s operations and maintenance account until the service submits, on a quarterly basis, briefings on the availability of amphibious ships, after the service said it would pause buying them.

Lawmakers also approved a provision that would require categorization and tracking of parts for Lockheed’s F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. The Pentagon’s acquisitions chief issued a waiver last year to allow for deliveries of F-35s to continue after finding a Chinese alloy used in a component on the fighter jet. Lockheed at the time said supplier Honeywell International Inc. found an “alternative US source” for the alloy that will be used in the production of future aircraft starting in November.

Pacific Deterrence

An amendment by Mike Gallagher (R-Wis.) would direct the secretary of defense to designate priority theaters of operation and priority combatant commands for each fiscal year no later than Oct. 31. The president and secretary of state would have to give priority to countries in those areas when procuring defense articles and in foreign military sales.

The bill also proposes $9.7 billion for the Pacific Deterrence Initiative, a boost of $600 million from the Pentagon’s budget request. The measure also would fully authorize funding for the nuclear triad and would seek to boost military stocks in the Pacific region. It would also require a study and report on the implementation of naval blockades of shipments of fossil fuels to China in the event of armed conflict.

— With assistance from Billy House and Erik Wasson (Bloomberg News) in Washington.

To contact the reporter on this story: Roxana Tiron in Washington at

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Robin Meszoly at; Anna Yukhananov at

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