Top House Democrats vow 'no’ votes on defense bill

The top three Democrats in the House announced late Thursday night that they will vote against the annual defense bill, signaling that a large chunk of the Democratic Caucus will oppose the must-pass legislation when it comes to the floor for a final vote Friday.

The announcement from House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.), Minority Whip Katherine Clark (D-Mass.) and Democratic Caucus Chair Pete Aguilar (D-Calif.) came shortly after the chamber approved a number of conservative amendments to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), including ones pertaining to hot-button issues such as abortion, transgender rights and diversity and inclusion initiatives.

The inclusion of those measures — which were adopted in largely party-line votes — is setting the scene for the NDAA, typically a bipartisan undertaking, to see widespread opposition from Democrats.

“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,” the Democratic trio wrote in a joint statement.

They continued, writing that Republicans “have turned what should be a meaningful investment in our men and women in uniform into an extreme and reckless legislative joyride.”

“The bill undermines a woman’s freedom to seek abortion care, targets the rights of LGBTQ+ servicemembers and bans books that should otherwise be available to military families,” they added.

The NDAA is set to hit the floor for a final vote Friday morning.

The statement from leadership follows similar announcements from top Democrats on the House Armed Services Committee, which advanced the initial legislation 58-1, and the New Democrat Coalition, which represents about 100 centrist Democrats.

“We worked with our colleagues in committee to pass a bill in an overwhelmingly bipartisan vote that invested in the greatest sources of America’s national strength: service members and their families, innovation and technology, allies and partners, and our defense industrial base and military readiness,” the Armed Services Democrats wrote.

But, they continued, “That bill no longer exists.”

The most controversial amendment added to the NDAA on Thursday was a measure that would reverse the Pentagon’s policy to reimburse travel expenses for service members who get abortions. That policy is what has led Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-Ala.) to block hundreds of military promotions in the upper chamber in protest.

The House adopted the amendment to reverse the policy in a 221-213 vote. Two Republicans — Reps. Brian Fitzpatrick (Pa.) and John Duarte (Calif.) — opposed the measure, while Rep. Henry Cuellar (Texas) was the only Democrat to support it.

The chamber also approved amendments that pertain to transgender rights, diversity initiatives and the promotion of what many conservatives refer to as “woke” ideas.

Democratic leadership’s opposition to the defense bill signals that Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) will have to rely heavily on his Republican colleagues to get the NDAA over the finish line. That, however, could prove to be a heavy lift with a narrow majority, as at least one GOP lawmaker was already planning to vote no and others remain undecided.

If all Democrats vote “no,” McCarthy can only afford to lose a handful of Republicans.

Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) announced Thursday that she will vote against the bill after her amendment striking $300 million of Ukraine funding authorization from the bill failed. Rep. Tim Burchett (R-Tenn.) told The Hill late Thursday night that he was “leaning no,” while Reps. Bob Good (R-Va.) and Thomas Massie (R-Ky.) said they have not yet decided how they will vote.


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