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GOP add Freedom Caucus-penned amendments to NDAA

House Republicans on Thursday added a slate of partisan provisions to the annual Pentagon policy bill, including reversing a military abortion policy, likely forcing the narrow GOP majority to pass the bill without Democratic votes.

They advanced a handful of Freedom Caucus-penned amendments to the $886 billion National Defense Authorization Act, including the lightning-rod measure that would halt reimbursements to military women for travel to get an abortion.

The GOP-controlled House was plowing through dozens of amendments into the night Thursday. Most were Republican-backed amendments expected to pass in party-line votes, such as banning the teaching of critical race theory at military academies and stripping funding for the Pentagon’s diversity, equity and inclusion efforts.

One of the most contentious of the add-ons was an amendment proposed by House Freedom Caucus member Rep. Ronny Jackson of Texas that would halt the Department of Defense from reimbursing abortion travel expenses.

Freedom Caucus Reps. Matt Rosendale of Montana and Ralph Norman of South Carolina succeeded in advancing their legislation to halt military benefits from paying for transgender surgeries and hormone treatments. 

Not all of the hardliners’ amendments were approved in the first round of voting. An effort by Reps. Matt Gaetz of Florida and Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia to slash Ukraine funding was rejected in a bipartisan landslide.

The dozens of votes came after House Speaker Kevin McCarthy struck deals that set up passage of the hot-button amendments, avoided a revolt by ultra-conservatives and got the NDAA back on track in the House.

While Mr. McCarthy stopped another Freedom Caucus rebellion, it will cost Democratic votes for the NDAA, a formerly bipartisan annual exercise that has become increasingly more partisan in recent years.  

Some Republican moderates and defense hawks said the hot-button issues should have been debated outside of the NDAA. 

Rep. Nick LaLota, a member of the Armed Services Committee, said partisan amendments jeopardize the bill.

“Congress must pass the NDAA,” Mr. LaLota, New York Republican, said. “The amendments which would cause the NDAA to fail put our military’s lethality at risk and should be debated outside of the NDAA.”

House Democrats vehemently opposed the conservatives’ amendments, arguing that they undermined Pentagon efforts to build a strong fighting force. Democratic firebrand Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York said that including Mr. Jackson’s measure would hurt service members.

“I do know that the inclusion of this amendment will lose significant Democratic support,” she told reporters outside the House chamber. She suggested it would be 100% of Democrats who now oppose the NDAA.

Rep. James McGovern, Massachusetts Democrat, lambasted Mr. McCarthy for allowing the Republicans’ ultra-conservative faction to call the shots. 

“The speaker of the house needs to grow a spine, not for his own reputation but for the good of this country,” he said.

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