Representative Jen Kiggans, a minivan-driving mom and Navy veteran, narrowly won election last year in her suburban Virginia swing district after a fiercely competitive race that centered on her opposition to abortion rights.
The issue remains a top priority for voters in her district, and appearing too extreme on it could make her vulnerable again when she faces re-election in 2024. But Ms. Kiggans was one of dozens of Republicans from competitive districts who voted this week in favor. support adding a set of deeply partisan restrictions to the annual defense policy bill, including one that would reverse a Pentagon policy aimed at preserving access to abortion services for military personnel, no matter where they are stationed.
Democrats said the GOP provision was a step toward establishing more abortion bans across the nation, while Republicans argued it simply maintained a longstanding bar against allowing federal funds to be used to pay for abortions.
The vote put lawmakers like Ms. Kiggans, a top target of Democrats whose seat is up for grabs in next year’s midterm congressional elections, in a politically dangerous position. And it raised the question of whether, in winning the short-term victory of keeping his party united behind the annual defense bill — which passed on a near-partisan vote Friday — Speaker Kevin McCarthy might have embraced a strategy that could ultimately. cost his party the House majority.
Ms. Kiggans and other similarly situated Republicans said they had no problem supporting the abortion restriction or the bill itself, which came out of the House loaded with other conservative policy dictates, including one barring the military’s health care program from providing transgender health services and another limiting it. diversity training for military personnel.
“Taxpayers should not have to pay for elective surgery,” Ms. Kiggans, who ran as a moderate focused on kitchen economic issues, said in an interview Friday, explaining her vote. “This was not an abortion bill; it was about taxpayers paying for travel for military members for election procedures.”
Still, the campaign arm of House Democrats wasted no time in attacking Ms. Kiggans and other vulnerable Republicans who supported the bill, and even some GOP lawmakers conceded that accepting it was a bad look for a party trying to broaden its appeal.
“The reason we’re in the majority today is because of swing districts and the reason we’re going to lose the majority is because of swing districts,” said Representative Nancy Mace, Republican of South Carolina. “That’s just been lost here. We’re 10 days away from the August break, and what have we done for women, post-Roe? Zero.”
Ms. Mace, who represents a politically divided district, criticized the abortion amendment but ultimately voted for it because she said it was technically consistent with Defense Department policy. But she said she regretted being forced to take the vote at all.
“I’m not happy about it,” she said. “I wish we didn’t have to do this now.”
The Republican proposal would reverse a Defense Department policy that the Supreme Court struck down last year on the constitutional right to an abortion, sparking a rush by some states to enact limits and bans on the procedure. The policy reimburses travel expenses for staff who must travel out of state to obtain an abortion or related services. The policy does not provide any money for abortions.
Democrats pointed to the vote as a prime example of Republicans taking votes that could ultimately cost them their House majority. Strategists in both parties suggested that the Supreme Court’s abortion decision, and subsequent efforts by Democrats to note Republican opposition to abortion rights, weakened the GOP during last year’s election, costing them support from independent and suburban voters.
“For the swing districts they represent, they should be doing the opposite — but they’re not,” said Courtney Rice, communications director for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. “Their decision to put partisan politics above paperbacks will cost them the House in 2024.”
Many vulnerable House Republicans said they took comfort in knowing that the amendments, which focused on energizing fights on social issues, would likely be removed from the bill by the Democratic-controlled Senate and would not be in a final version of the defense policy bill. . .
“It wouldn’t be the way I would run the place, but at the end of the day as long as we pass NDAA like we did and keep the really nasty poison pills out, I think it solves the problem,” said. Representative Tony Gonzales, Republican of Texas, referring to the defense bill by the initials of its full name. Mr. Gonzales, who voted for the amendment on abortion and others banning transgender health services and limiting diversity training for military personnel, voted against amendments that sought to cut funding for Ukraine.
Sarah Chamberlain, the president of the Republican Main Street Partnership, an outside organization allied with the congressional Republican Main Street Caucus, described the vote as a “calculated risk” for many members who were betting it wouldn’t hurt them politically.
“They decided it was more important to them to get this bill out of the House than to fall on their sword on this one,” she said. “They would prefer these amendments not exist, but I think they can defend their vote because they support the men and women of the military.”
Still, it’s not the first time vulnerable Republicans have caved to their party’s hard right, even when it means taking votes that could prove to be political liabilities down the line. Mr. McCarthy, who has worked overtime to appease the right wing whose support he needs to stay in power — most of whom represent safe GOP districts — has done comparatively little to protect more mainstream Republicans, whose seats are at risk from having to take difficult votes. .
In April, they voted for Mr. McCarthy’s bill to raise the debt ceiling for one year in exchange for spending cuts and policy changes, even though it gutted programs that helped veterans and the elderly.
Last month, they voted to support a resolution that would repeal a rule by the Biden administration that tightened federal regulations on stabilizing racks for guns that have been used in several mass shootings. House leaders brought the bill to the floor to help end a week-long blockade by far-right Republicans.
Still, the level of GOP support for the abortion amendment — only two Republicans, Reps. John Duarte of California and Brian Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania, voted against it — came as a shock to Democrats.
“There are those across the aisle who realize this is bad,” said Representative Mikie Sherrill of New Jersey, a former Navy helicopter pilot who is one of two Democratic women in the House who served in the military. Ms. Sherrill said she heard from some Republican colleagues who told her privately, “‘This is a really bad idea, this is a mistake.’ Well, why did all but two people vote for this really bad amendment?”
Representative Chrissie Houlahan, Democrat of Pennsylvania and a former Air Force officer, said she was “surprised by the poverty of people who voted against the amendment. I expected 15 Republicans to do the right thing.”
Some mainstream Republicans tried to justify their votes by arguing that they didn’t vote against abortion or transgender health care — just against government funding for it.
“If you look at the polls, most Americans don’t think the federal government should pay for abortions,” said Representative Stephanie Bice, Republican of Oklahoma and vice chair of the Main Street Caucus.
Representative Don Bacon, Republican of Nebraska, said he supported the provision banning military coverage for gender reassignment surgeries and hormone therapy because he believed, “If you want to do it, do it on your own dime.”
“I don’t think it should be the taxpayers’ responsibility,” Mr Bacon added.