The House is set to vote Thursday on whether to limit abortion access, bar transgender services and end diversity training for military personnel, part of a series of major changes that hard-right Republicans are seeking to the annual defense policy bill, including pulling the U.S. aid to Ukraine.
The debate unfolded after Speaker Kevin McCarthy capitulated late Wednesday to a small group of ultraconservative Republicans who threatened to block the legislation, which provides annual pay for US troops and sets Pentagon policy, if their proposals did not receive consideration.
Instead the House moved forward Thursday, with the fate of the $886 billion bill still in doubt. The far-right’s proposals to eliminate military aid to Ukraine have little chance of passage because of the strong bipartisan consensus behind the aid, but it was not clear whether a proposal to ban the Biden administration from sending cluster munitions could have enough bipartisan support to succeed.
And the measures imposing socially conservative policies on the Pentagon are extremely popular among Republicans. If they pass, Democrats are likely to abandon the bill en masse, sinking it altogether.
Shortly before debate began, Representative Katherine M. Clark of Massachusetts, the Democratic whip, told CNN that there would be no support for the bill in her party if it contained the provision to prevent the Pentagon from providing time off and reimbursement to service members. traveling out of state to receive an abortion or other reproductive health services.
It was an unusual situation for the defense bill, normally a bipartisan issue that is considered one of the few must-pass items coming before Congress. This year, with Republicans in control of the House, it has become a partisan battleground whose very survival is in doubt.
“It’s outrageous that a tiny minority of MAGA extremists is dictating how we’re going to proceed,” said Representative Jim McGovern, Democrat of Massachusetts and the ranking member of the Rules Committee, early Thursday morning, denouncing GOP leaders for accepting the demands. about what he called “far-right nuts”.
“When you have a slim majority in one half or one branch of government, you can’t dictate every single amendment that comes to the floor,” Mr. McGovern said. “Democracy means compromise.”
Republican leaders, who can afford to lose no more than four votes on their side if Democrats remain united, counted on Democratic votes to help pass the defense bill. Some of them expressed frustration at demands by hard-line lawmakers to load the bill with a deeply conservative cultural agenda that could cost them those critical votes.
“We have some people who want all the things that will cost us Democratic support, but still won’t guarantee you if they don’t get X, Y or Z that they will actually vote for final approval or even for a rule,” Representative Tom Cole, Republican of Oklahoma and chairman of the rules committee, said in an interview Wednesday.
However, Mr Cole said he was likely to vote in favor of the socially conservative amendments.
The proposals alienated some key Republicans, including those from politically competitive districts. Their opposition could block the changes, possibly saving the defense measure.
And right-wing Republicans were expected to fail in their efforts to limit military support for Ukraine. This included one proposal to end a $300 million military assistance program to train and equip Ukrainian soldiers that had been included in defense bills every year for nearly a decade, and another to prohibit the United States from sending any other security aid to Ukraine.
It was not clear whether a proposal to bar the Biden administration from sending cluster munitions to Ukraine, as the president announced he intended to do last week, could win the support needed to pass.
Republican leaders have been pushing for cluster munitions to be sent to Ukraine for months, while most Democrats were outraged by President Biden’s decision. They argued that the hard warheads—which disintegrate on impact and routinely leave unexploded ordnance in the ground, endangering civilians for decades to come—would cost the United States the moral high ground in the war.
This week, some conservative Republicans aligned themselves with Democrats opposing the move.