A divided House voted on Thursday to restrict abortion access, bar transgender health services and limit diversity training for military personnel, potentially imperiling passage of the annual defense bill as Republicans, goaded by their right flank, loaded the measure with conservative policy dictates.
The House voted 221 to 213 to overturn a Pentagon policy guaranteeing abortion access to service members regardless of where they are stationed, with Republicans propelling it to passage over near-unanimous Democratic opposition.
By a vote of 222 to 211, the House also adopted a measure to bar the military’s health plan from covering gender-transition surgeries — which currently can be covered only with a waiver — and gender-affirming hormone therapy. And the chamber voted 214 to 213 to eliminate the Pentagon’s offices of diversity, equity and inclusion, along with all of their personnel.
Taken together, the series of changes — which hard-right lawmakers had demanded be put on the floor as a condition for allowing the legislation to move forward — threatened to sap critical Democratic support for the annual defense policy measure, an $886 billion bill that would grant a 5.2 percent pay raise to military personnel, counter aggressive moves by China and Russia, and establish a special inspector general to oversee U.S. aid to Ukraine.
“I don’t think I’ve ever not voted for an N.D.A.A,” said Representative Pete Aguilar, Democrat of California and the No. 3 Democrat, using the initials for the National Defense Authorization Act, one of the few pieces of legislation regarded as a must-pass item to come before Congress each year. “I’m a no.”
The action came during an extraordinarily bitter debate in the House over the annual defense policy measure, normally a bipartisan affair that draws broad support, which this week has instead become a battlefield in a political culture war stoked by the G.O.P.
In heated exchanges on the floor, Republicans accused Democrats and the Biden administration of trying to turn the Pentagon into a hotbed of radical progressivism, while Democrats said Republicans were trying to use the Defense Department to achieve an extreme agenda of rolling back the rights of women, people of color and transgender individuals.
“It is this administration that has turned the Department of Defense into a social-engineering experiment wrapped in a uniform,” Representative Chip Roy, Republican of Texas, said. “The American people I’ve talked to back home don’t want a weak military; they don’t want a woke military; they don’t want rainbow propaganda on bases; they don’t want to pay for troops’ sex changes.”
Democrats were particularly outraged at the inclusion of the abortion restriction, warning that they could not support the defense bill with such a measure included.
“The MAGA majority is using our defense bill to get one stop closer to the only thing they really care about: a nationwide abortion ban,” Representative Katherine M. Clark of Massachusetts, the Democratic whip, said in a floor speech.
Without Democratic backing, Republicans would need near-unanimous support on their side to push the measure through the House, where they could afford to lose no more than four of their own members’ votes.
It is unusual, though not unprecedented, for the House to pass a defense bill on a party-line vote. House Democrats did so in the summer of 2019 — but with a much larger majority. And it was not clear whether Republicans would be able to muster that much support.
Even if Republicans can muscle the bill through the House, the measures they attached stand no chance of passing the Democratic-led Senate, which is expected to take up its version of the legislation next week. A protracted fight between the chambers could compromise the chances of ultimately reaching a compromise and enacting a bill, as Congress has done annually for more than six decades.
Democrats called the abortion measure unacceptable, particularly in the wake of the Supreme Court’s ruling last year overturning abortion rights, which set off a rush by some states to enact bans and curbs on the procedure.
Representative Mikie Sherrill, Democrat of New Jersey and a Navy veteran, said the Republican provision “puts servicewomen and military families’ lives at risk by denying the basic right to travel for health care no longer available where they are stationed.” Only one Democrat, Representative Henry Cuellar of Texas, voted in favor of overturning the Pentagon’s abortion access policy.
Republicans defended the move as a matter of principle, arguing that the Pentagon policy it would overturn — offering time off and travel reimbursement to troops traveling out of state to obtain an abortion — violated a prohibition against taxpayer-funded abortions.
“This illegal Biden-endorsed policy has no place in our military,” said Representative Ronny Jackson, Republican of Texas, the author of the proposal. “The taxpayer money is going directly to support abortions, and anyone in this chamber that says differently is blatantly lying to the American people.”
The debate unfolded after Speaker Kevin McCarthy capitulated this week to a small group of ultraconservative Republicans who had threatened to block the defense legislation if their proposals, including pulling U.S. aid to Ukraine, did not receive consideration.
Instead the House moved forward on Thursday, slogging through dozens of proposed modifications. It overwhelmingly defeated two Republican efforts to cut U.S. military assistance for Ukraine. The vote was 341 to 89 to reject a measure from Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene, Republican of Georgia, to end a $300 million program to train and equip Ukrainian soldiers, which has been in place for almost a decade. And by a vote of 358 to 70, the House rejected a proposal from Representative Matt Gaetz, Republican of Florida, to prohibit sending any more security assistance to Ukraine. In both cases, the supporters were all Republicans.
Those results were a victory for mainstream Republicans, who have defended U.S. military assistance to Ukraine as vital to countering Russia and are expected to support the Biden administration when it approaches Congress to approve additional money for Ukraine, likely this fall. But they reflected how anti-Ukraine sentiment is growing in the Republican ranks. In the spring, only 57 Republicans voted against a $40 billion package of military and humanitarian assistance for Ukraine.
Republican leaders had hoped to avoid those votes, which spotlighted their party’s internal rifts over funding the war, as well as a bevy of social policy amendments that they worried could damage the G.O.P. brand. Instead, the debate at times devolved into an ugly exchange over matters of race, sex and gender.
At one point, Representative Eli Crane, an Arizona Republican who proposed barring diversity training from being a prerequisite for military jobs or promotions, appeared to refer to Black people as “colored people,” in arguing in favor of his proposal.
“The military was never intended to be, you know, inclusive,” Mr. Crane said, arguing that meeting standards should be the sole criterion. “My amendment has nothing to do with whether or not colored people or Black people or anybody can serve.”
The remark drew instant condemnation on the House floor from Representative Joyce Beatty, an Ohio Democrat who is Black, who said it was offensive and demanded that it be stricken from the Congressional Record, which it was. In a statement provided later, Mr. Crane said he “misspoke” during the debate.
Hours earlier, Representative Jim McGovern of Massachusetts, the senior Democrat on the Rules Committee, rebuked Republican leaders for their approach to the defense measure, saying they had “managed to mess up a bipartisan bill and put it on a path to becoming a hyperpartisan one by loading up with every divisive social issue under the sun,” and accusing them of catering to “a dozen or so far-right MAGA wing nuts.”
A Republican proposal to bar the Biden administration from sending cluster munitions to Ukraine also failed on Thursday night, splitting members of both parties in the process.
Republican leaders have been agitating for cluster munitions to be sent to Ukraine for months, while most Democrats were outraged last week when President Biden announced he intended to do so. They argued that the unwieldy warheads — which scatter upon impact and routinely leave unexploded ordnance in the ground, endangering civilians for decades to come — would cost the United States the moral high ground in the war.
This week, a number of conservative Republicans aligned themselves with the Democrats opposing the move. But on Thursday night, several Democrats were unhappy that the measure voted on was a proposal from Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene, Republican of Georgia, focused exclusively on denying the weapons for Ukraine, instead of a Democratic amendment that would have prohibited their export globally.
Annie Karni contributed reporting.