on the hill

Democrats turn against defense bill ahead of final passage vote

A series of social policy amendments passed on Thursday prompted leading Democrats to announce they would no longer support legislation, which previously had strong bipartisan support

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Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) participates in a photo line with tourists in Statuary Hall at the U.S. Capitol Building on July 13, 2023, in Washington, D.C.

The House is set to vote Friday on final passage of the 2024 National Defense Authorization Act. But, after conservative Republicans successfully added amendments on social priorities, many Democrats are now expected to oppose the legislation, while some conservative Republicans remain unsatisfied despite a series of wins.

Republicans successfully passed amendments on abortion and LGBTQ policy on Thursday that led prominent Democrats, including the three top members of Democratic leadership and top members of the House Armed Services Committee to announce that they intended to vote against the NDAA. The original bill passed the Armed Services Committee with just one Democrat voting in opposition. Few other Democrats are expected to vote for the bill.

That means that House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) will need near-unanimous support from his caucus to pass the NDAA. At least one Republican, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA), said she’ll refuse to vote for the bill because her amendments limiting aid to Ukraine were roundly rejected by the House yesterday. 

Seventy Republicans voted in favor of prohibiting all Ukraine security aid, while 89 voted in favor of a measure cutting $300 million in Ukraine funding.

Prior to final passage of the NDAA on Friday, the House is expected to vote on an en bloc package of amendments including anti-Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions legislation and a measure seeking to block any nuclear agreement with Iran not approved by Congress.

On Thursday, the House rejected an amendment by Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) seeking to ban any diversity, equity and inclusion training in the Defense Department; Reps. Don Bacon (R-NE), Lori Chavez-DeRemer (R-OR), Anthony D’Esposito (R-NY), Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA), Jennifer Gonzalez-Colon (R-PR), John James (R-MI), Mike Lawler (R-NY), Marc Molinaro (R-NY) and Mike Turner (R-OH) voted with Democrats to defeat the amendment.

The House approved two other amendments on DEI matters. Chavez-DeRemer and Fitzpatrick voted against both, and Bacon and Turner voted against one of them. The House passed an amendment setting up a potential investigation of counter-extremism efforts at the Pentagon, with Rep. Dan Crenshaw (R-TX) the only Republican voting in opposition. 

Meanwhile, on the other side of the Capitol building, an expected fight in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee markup over Israel policy largely failed to materialize. Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-VA), who has been arguing that Israel is not yet ready to enter the visa waiver program this year, proposed an amendment to the 2024 State Department Authorization bill that emphasized requirements for equal treatment of all Americans. 

“This issue has come to the fore because Israel is seeking admission to the visa waiver program. It’s something I support so long as Israel meets the conditions of blue-is-blue,” Van Hollen said.

The amendment passed via voice vote, with ayes coming from the Democratic side and nays coming from Republicans, according to a pool report on the meeting.

However, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) did not call up amendments he had filed that would have reversed the Biden administration’s guidance barring funding to scientific and technological projects in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights and reversing a name change of the Office of Israeli and Palestinian Affairs. An individual familiar with the situation said Cruz now plans to introduce the measure on science and technology funding as a standalone bill.

Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) discussed but withdrew without a vote an amendment requesting a report on Israeli settlement activity, saying that it is “always difficult to have this conversation.” Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI) spoke supportively of the proposal, saying that “a lot of us who are steadfast supporters of Israel, from the far right to the far left to everything in between have to acknowledge that the current Israeli government is allowing things that make [peace] more and more difficult to achieve.”

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