The House of Representatives will vote on Thursday whether to limit abortion access, ban transgender services and end diversity training for military personnel, part of a series of major changes far-right Republicans are seeking in the bill. annual defense policy, including the withdrawal of US aid to Ukraine.
The debate came after President Kevin McCarthy capitulated Wednesday night to a small group of ultra-conservative Republicans who had threatened to block legislation, which provides an annual pay raise for US troops and sets Pentagon policy, if their proposals receive no consideration.
Instead, the House moved forward on Thursday, with the fate of the $886 billion bill still in doubt. Proposals from the far right to cut military aid to Ukraine have little chance of passing given the strong bipartisan consensus behind the aid, but it was unclear whether a proposal to ban the Biden administration from sending cluster munitions could garner enough bipartisan backing. to have success.
And measures that impose socially conservative policies on the Pentagon are extremely popular with Republicans. If they pass, the Democrats are likely to abandon the bill en masse and scuttle it completely.
Shortly before the debate began, Rep. Katherine M. Clark of Massachusetts, the Democratic leader, told CNN that there would be no support for the bill in her party if it contained a provision to prohibit the Pentagon from providing time off and reimbursement. to service members. travel out of state for an abortion or other reproductive health services.
It was an unusual situation for the defense bill, normally a bipartisan matter that is considered one of the few items that must pass before Congress. This year, with Republicans in control of the House, it has become a partisan battleground whose very survival is in question.
“It is outrageous that a small minority of MAGA extremists are dictating how we are going to proceed,” Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Massachusetts and ranking member of the Rules Committee, said early Thursday morning, denouncing Republican leaders for accept the demands. of what he called “a dozen far-right crackpots.”
“When you have a minimum majority in half or in one branch of government, you can’t dictate every single amendment that comes along,” Mr. McGovern said. “Democracy means compromise.”
Republican leaders, who can afford to lose no more than four votes on their side if Democrats stick together, have been counting on Democratic votes to help pass the defense bill. Some of them have expressed frustration with demands by far-right lawmakers to saddle 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 the support of the Democrats, but they still don’t guarantee you, if they don’t get X, Y or Z, that they will actually vote for final passage or even a rule,” he said. Rep. Tom Cole, Republican of Oklahoma and chairman of the rules panel, in an interview Wednesday.
Still, Cole said he would likely vote for the socially conservative amendments.
The proposals have alienated some mainstream Republicans, including those from politically competitive districts. His opposition could block the changes, potentially saving the defense measure.
And right-wing Republicans were expected to fail in their efforts to reduce military support for Ukraine. That included a proposal to end a $300 million military assistance program to train and equip Ukrainian soldiers that has been included in defense bills annually for nearly a decade, and another to bar the United States from sending any other security assistance to Ukraine.
It was unclear whether a proposal to ban the Biden administration from sending cluster munitions to Ukraine, as the president announced he intended to do last week, could gain the necessary support to pass.
Republican leaders have been campaigning for cluster munitions to be sent to Ukraine for months, while most Democrats were outraged by President Biden’s decision. They argued that the unwieldy warheads, which scatter on impact and routinely leave unexploded ordnance on the ground, endangering civilians for decades to come, would cost the United States its moral superiority in war.
This week, several conservative Republicans sided with Democrats who oppose the measure.