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House approves NDAA in near-party-line vote with Republican changes on social issues

Amendments may derail defense bill's passage
Some Republicans threatening to derail passage of annual defense spending bill 03:59

Washington — The House on Friday narrowly approved the must-pass defense policy bill, ending uncertainty about its fate after Republicans pushed through a series of conservative policy amendments on abortion, diversity, equity and inclusion programs, and gender transition procedures.

The annual National Defense Authorization Act, which sets policy for the Defense Department, cleared the House in a near-party-line vote, 219-210. Four Republicans voted against the bill, while four Democrats voted for it, support that rescued the defense measure from failure.

The four GOP lawmakers who opposed the bill are: Reps. Eli Crane of Arizona, Andy Biggs of Arizona, Ken Buck of Colorado and Thomas Massie of Kentucky. The four Democrats who supported the package are: Reps. Jared Golden of Maine, Gabe Vasquez of New Mexico, Marie Gluesenkamp Pérez of Washington and Don Davis of North Carolina.

While the package typically earns wide bipartisan support and has passed Congress each year for more than six decades, this year's proposal became ensnared in politically-charged policy debates dividing Republicans and Democrats.

The broad opposition to the bill from congressional Democrats came after the GOP-led House agreed to attach conservative policy priorities to the bill Thursday. The contested amendments, approved narrowly, led Democrats to accuse their Republican colleagues of using the defense package as a vehicle to push their policy agenda on social issues.

"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 Democratic Leader Hakeem Jeffries, Democratic whip Katherine Clark and caucus chair Pete Aguilar said in a statement. "House Republicans have turned what should be a meaningful investment in our men and women in uniform into an extreme and reckless legislative joyride."

The top Democrats on the House Armed Services Committee, which cleared the defense bill with overwhelming bipartisan support last month, also opposed the measure following the changes adopted by Republicans on the House floor.

"All this bill does is weaken our country. It weakens our ability to respect all of the people who should be allowed not just to serve, but to serve with an equal chance at advancement," Rep. Adam Smith, the Democratic leader of the Armed Services Committee, said in remarks on the House floor.

"Holding America's military readiness — as well as service members and their families — hostage to an extreme, divisive political agenda undermines our national security and disrespects the sacrifices that those who wear the uniform," White House spokesperson Andrew Bates said in a statement provided to CBS News. "That's what House Republicans, Senator Tuberville, and Senate Republicans who refuse to challenge him are doing by hijacking a bipartisan bill and devolving it into a hardcore rightwing wishlist."

Passage of the bill amid the Democratic pushback posed a crucial test for House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, who could only afford to lose four GOP votes if all Democrats voted together in order for the plan to clear the lower chamber. Despite its passage by the House, the defense package is dead-on-arrival in the Senate given the GOP's changes. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said this week the upper chamber will take up its own version of the defense policy plan, setting up more partisan wrangling over the measure as the House and Senate will need to reconcile their two bills.

The $886 billion defense package, which authorizes funding and sets the policy for the Defense Department, includes a 5.2% pay raise for service members and measures addressing China and Russia. 

The House blocked by wide margins a series of proposed changes involving U.S. assistance to Ukraine, including a proposal from GOP Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene to stop cluster munitions from going to Ukraine and an amendment from Republican Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida to prohibit security assistance to the country as it continues to fight against Russia.

But on conservative social policy issues, Republicans won the changes they sought, albeit narrowly. Now included in the defense package is a provision prohibiting the Defense Department from paying or reimbursing expenses related to abortion services — a policy implemented by the Pentagon after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade last year. Sen. Tommy Tuberville, an Alabama Republican, has been holding up military promotions and nominations over the policy.

An amendment denying healthcare coverage for sex reassignment surgeries and hormone treatments for transgender service members was passed narrowly, as was a measure eliminating the Pentagon's offices of diversity, equity and inclusion, and their personnel.

A proposal from GOP Rep. Lauren Boebert of Colorado barring a Defense Department agency that operates its schools from buying books that contain "pornographic material" or espouse "radical gender ideology" will also be attached to the defense policy bill.

Rep. Chip Roy, a Republican from Texas, expressed confidence the defense bill will pass the House and predicted "overwhelming support" from GOP lawmakers.

"We're moving DOD back to its core focus," he told reporters Thursday. "I think there's a pretty good overwhelming amount of support among Republicans to do that."

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