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House Republicans pass NDAA that bans abortion travel funds, gender-affirming care for the military
The National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) authorizes funding levels and provides authorities for the U.S. military and other critical defense priorities, ensuring U.S. troops have the training, equipment, and resources they need to carry out their missions.
The House NDAA passed last week would authorize $874.2 billion in national defense spending, including $841.5 billion for the Defense Department and $32.2 billion for national security programs within the Energy Department. It would also provide a 5.2 percent military pay increase.
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The final vote was 219-210, with all but four Democrats voting against it: Reps. Don Davis (D-NC), Jared Golden (D-ME), Perez (D-WA), and Vasquez (D-NM) voted for the NDAA despite numerous amendments that advance GOP “culture war” issues sure to doom the bill in the Senate (where Democratic support is required to reach the 60-vote threshold). Four Republicans, all members of the far-right House Freedom Caucus, voted against final passage. In Rep. Andy Biggs’ (R-AZ) words, the NDAA did not go far enough to “rein in the Biden Administration's disastrous policies.”
Rep. Ronny Jackson (R-TX) introduced an amendment to prohibit the Defense Department from reimbursing personnel for travel expenses related to abortion services. The policy, announced earlier this year, was designed to make it easier for service members and their dependents to access reproductive health care after a slew of states banned or restricted abortion procedures.
The amendment passed 221-213, with only one Democrat—Rep. Henry Cuellar of Texas—voting in favor. Two Republicans, Reps. John Duarte (CA) and Brian Fitzpatrick (PA), opposed the measure.
In arguing for his amendment, Rep. Ronny Jackson accused the Department of Defense of illegally “sidestepping” the Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision overturning Roe v. Wade:
“I urge all of my colleagues to vote in strong support of my amendment to repeal the Department of Defense’s illegal and immoral abortion policy. In the wake of the Supreme Court's historic Dobbs decision, overturning Roe vs. Wade, the Biden administration immediately set out to sidestep the court's ruling and circumvent the law wherever possible. The Biden administration has encouraged every federal agency to create rules and adopt policies that not only expand abortion access but also leave American taxpayers on the hook to subsidize abortion services… It is the Biden administration who has sidestepped existing law and given the department permission to take this illegal action. This has left us with no choice but to take corrective measures and pass additional legislation. The days of the radical left ignoring the law and pushing their destructive social agenda in the military are done. I absolutely will not waver in my defense of the rule of law, therefore, ensuring that taxpayer money is not used to kill innocent babies and, in doing so, ensure that our military service members can focus on the jobs that they have in front of them and their families instead of being used for the political gain of the Biden administration.”
Democratic Rep. Mikie Sherrill (NJ) spoke in opposition, pointing out that almost 50% of women in U.S. military service do not live/are not stationed in an area with access to abortion care:
“I rise today in vehement opposition to the amendment proposed by Rep. Jackson. My colleagues on the other side of the aisle like to thank the troops and talk about honoring their sacrifice and that's all, frankly, empty words and broken promises if this amendment passes. This amendment 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. Now that Iowa passed anti-abortion restrictions, 46% of servicewomen do not have access to abortion care. This would enact a dangerous health care travel ban. Service members signed up to put their lives on the line for our freedoms, our national values, our constitutional rights—they did not sign up to put their lives on the line or their spouse's lives on the line because they could not get access to basic care. I was an officer in the Navy. What I learned was that good leaders protect their squadron. They don't abandon them in favor of their own politics or agenda. How am I supposed to recommend to young girls in my district that they should attend a service academy like I did when we know this amendment would mean they would be signing away their right to basic health care? This makes our servicewomen pawns in their extreme agenda and is a stepping stone to larger bans, restrictions, and wholesale disregard for women's health care in America.”
Rep. Matt Rosendale (R-MT) introduced an amendment to ban military health insurance and the Department of Defense from providing or covering gender-affirming treatment for transgender people. The measure, Rosendale admitted on the floor, is a shortcut to banning transgender people from the U.S. military:
“Gender reassignment surgery…and psychotherapy for gender dysphoria…does nothing to help our troops continue to be the most effective fighting force on Earth and is nothing but a distraction and waste of valuable taxpayer dollars. The government has no business funding these procedures on the taxpayer’s dime. The question that must be asked is whether having transgender individuals makes the United States a more lethal force and whether it helps recruit the best and most effective talent for the United States military — and the answer to that is a clear and resounding no.”
“A report commissioned by general Mattis found that service members with claims of gender dysphoria are 8 times more likely to attempt suicide than other service members. It also found that these individuals are nine times more likely to have negative mental health episodes than other service members. As Thomas Spore, a former army lieutenant general, put it: if those with gender dysphoria are at a much higher risk of suicide, crippling anxiety, or mental breakdowns than their peers, those serving next to them will be reluctant to rely on them. Permitting them to serve also violates the principle of not placing individuals at greater risk of injury in harm’s way. To summarize this: anything that does not contribute to making our fighting force the most effective fighting force on Earth is nothing more than a distraction and I will not ask the people of Montana or the United States to pay for it.”
Democratic Rep. Adam Smith (WA), ranking member of the Armed Services Committee, argued that gender-affirming care should be treated like any other healthcare service members may need:
“The ignorance contained in these comments is breathtaking. Transgender people who have normal regular health care are no more to likely commit suicide than anybody else. So basically, the statistics that he is showing, once someone identifies they are having a problem, they’re more likely to have a problem. That would be like saying we have identified that service members that complain of PTSD symptoms are more likely to commit suicide. The point is to get proper care for transgender people and you don’t have these issues. It is the ignorance that has prevented them from getting that proper care…We need transgender people to serve in the military and this amendment should be defeated.”
The amendment passed 222-211, with Democratic Rep. Henry Cuellar (TX) voting in favor and Republican Rep. John Duarte (CA) voting in opposition.
Rep. Ralph Norman (R-SC) introduced a similar amendment to prohibit the Exceptional Family Member Program (EFMP), a program for military family members with special needs, from providing gender-affirming treatment to minor dependent children. After saying that people “who don’t know whether they are a man or woman” should not be allowed to serve in the military, Norman suggested that providing gender-affirming treatment to military families is a distraction manufactured by the Biden administration:
“Recently, the military has tried to politicize this valuable program for transgender procedure purposes. I almost think this administration is trying to use something insane like what we're having to do here to take the focus off the things that are happening to America—like the invasion at the border, like crime in the streets, like an economy that's sinking—that we are having to talk about this. But I'm glad to do it. Somebody has to stop it. For example, the last year the air force suggested using the EFMP for families who want to help their child transition. Representative Panetta introduced a bill to expand the EFMP to include transgender dependents and specifically list gender dysphoria as a quantifying medical need for the program. If you put this out to the everyday American, would they want their tax dollars used for this type of surgery? Would they want their tax dollars—by the way, spending money we don't have—going to this? My amendment ensures that we reserve this valuable program for its original intent, to help families with special needs, and prohibits the use of the program for the provision of or referral for gender transition procedures, such as gender surgery or for medication. This amendment also prohibits the change of duty station simply for the purpose of providing a child with easier access to these procedures.”
Democratic Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (TX) pushed back on Norman’s arguments:
“Families care about their children. And it stuns me that the gentleman on the other side has indicated that he wants to take health decisions out of the hands of parents who are serving in the United States military, committed to laying their life down for Americans, and eliminate it to the point that the parents who love the military must leave the military and diminish our fighting force. Let me be clear: As it relates to trans children in medical care, every major medical and mental health association in the United States, representing more than 1.3 million U.S. doctors, support age-appropriate gender-affirming care for transgender people. In addition, in the special needs of the soldiers and others in the United States military, there is no indication that money will be taken away from special needs children as it relates to the particular needs of trans children. What it does say is that parents who love their children would be discriminated against depending on what their health need is. And so I rise today in opposition to this ill-thought of and ill-fated—I hope—amendment that clearly divides us as Americans, as members of the United States military, and goes against science and medicine because this affirming medical care has been accepted.”
Norman’s amendment passed 222-210, again with Democratic Rep. Henry Cuellar (TX) voting in favor. Rep. Ken Buck (CO) was the only Republican to oppose the measure.
Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion
Rep. Chip Roy (R-TX) introduced an amendment to eliminate diversity, equity, and inclusion offices in the Department of Defense. These offices focus not just on recruiting a diverse military force, but also on promoting a respectful culture within the military that “values diversity and inclusion as readiness imperatives.”
According to Roy, diversity programs make the U.S. military weaker. He argued the military is too broke to fund diversity positions and even cited Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts’ recent opinion against affirmative action:
“The amendment that I'm offering, 310, amends section 904 to prohibit federal funds from being used to establish anything similar or any position comparable to the chief diversity officer or senior adviser for diversity and inclusion… The Department of Defense should be focused on one thing only: securing the defense of the nation. It's not in our national security interest to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars for diversity training that continues to try to divvy us up by race. That is the opposite of the direction we should be going. In fact, it sews constant division into the Department of Defense. Does a person's race or skin color help them overcome hostile forces? Does it allow us to win the next battle? Do rainbow bullets and flags scare away foes? Yet, that's what we're spending our time on and we can't even pay our men and women in uniform. Literally the air force is saying ‘sorry, we can't give you bonuses right now’ because they've mismanaged their budget and they're having to spend money on positions like this. China and our other enemies do not care about feelings. So why are we funding divisive programs and divisive positions rather than positions focused on advancing and training the strongest and best military in the world? That is the purpose of the amendment. It is great that we are eliminating in the bill the statutory requirement that we have such a position. But we ought to end this divvying us up by race. It is, in the words of the Chief Justice, a sordid business; To divvy us up by race rather than to ensure we have the best trained and finest fighting force in the world.”
Democratic Rep. Adam Smith (WA), ranking member of the Armed Services Committee, pointed out that diversity, equity, and inclusion offices work to bring people into the military that were often excluded in the past:
“I want to answer the most important question: what does this have to do with national security? It has to do with unit cohesion and with recruitment. And interestingly, the survey data shows almost three times as many people say they are worried about joining the military because of their concerns about discrimination as say that they're worried about the military being too woke. That is the point of this. The training is to make sure there is unit cohesion, number one, and number two, that we can recruit from the entire country. It really comes down to whether or not you believe that we have a history of discrimination against people of color, the LGBTQ community, and women. If you think that that just didn't happen, and we don't have to worry about it, then I guess this approach makes sense. But the history of our country tells a very different story. We need to address this in order to make sure that if you are a woman, if you're a black person, if you are trans or gay, the military is going to give you a fair shake. Let me remind everybody here, that just 13 years ago we finally allowed gay people to serve in the military. Every single republican voted against that. Every single one. Do we really think that our national security would be stronger if we drove all the gay people out of the military? We need all the resources, all the talents from this country, and regrettably we haven't always done that. What is shown: we need to address these issues. Now, the republicans exaggerate this. They act like this is all we do in recruitment. I've spent a lot of time with a lot of military people, this is not all we do in training the military. It is something that needs to be done to meet our recruitment goals.”
Roy’s amendment passed 217-212, with Republican Reps. Lori Chavez-DeRemer (OR) and Brian Fitzpatrick (PA) joining all Democrats in opposition.
Another of Roy’s amendments to ban Department of Defense schools from teaching “critical race theory” passed 227-201, with nine Democrats joining all Republicans to vote in favor: Reps. Jake Auchincloss (MA), Henry Cuellar (TX), Donald Davis (NC), Jared Golden (ME), Seth Moulton (MA), Wiley Nickel (NC), Chris Pappas (NH), Marie Gluesenkamp Perez (WA), and Kim Schrier (WA).
Rep. Eli Crane (R-AZ) introduced an amendment to ban the military from making participation in training or support for certain race-based concepts a requirement for hiring, promotion, or retention of individuals. The measure refers to ideas that conservatives associate with “critical race theory,” such as teaching that “an individual should feel discomfort…on account of his or her race.”
“Today I rise before you with a critical amendment that remedies the harm imposed by political and military leaders that emphasize social justice, progressive dogma, and climate issues against the dedicated men and women of our armed forces who joined to defend our country… What's divisive is how the military's becoming a political, a social experiment. I don't know about how many people over there or how many other people in this chamber served in the military, but I happened to join the Navy the week after 9/11. I can tell you this: I served with all sorts of people, from all over the country, multiple colors, and you know what? The people that I served with were there not because of what race they were. They were there because they passed the standards. They were there because they were the best of the best. And you know what? That made me feel really safe when we were going into the most dangerous parts of the world. And that's what we need to continue. We need to have a military that continues to be the strongest military in the world because of standards. Because the people that we have there are the best of the best. The military was never intended to be, you know, ‘inclusive.’ Its strength is not its diversity. Its strength is its standards. Diversity can be a great thing but that should not be our focus. I'm going to tell you this right now—you can keep playing around these games with diversity, equity and inclusion, but there are some real threats out there and if we keep messing around and we keep lowering our standards, it's not going to be good.”
Then, in response to Rep. Joyce Beatty (D-OH)—who once chaired the Congressional Black Caucus—talking about the hardships people of color and women have historically faced in the military, Crane made headlines by using the term “colored people” on the House floor:
“My amendment has nothing to do with whether or not colored people or black people or anybody can serve. It has nothing to do with any of that stuff.”
Rep. Beatty asked the chair to strike Rep. Crane’s words from the record, prompting Crane to try to amend his comments to “people of color.” Beatty insisted and the House struck Crane’s words with unanimous consent. Ultimately, however, Crane’s amendment was passed 214-210, with Republican Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (PA) voting in opposition and Democratic Rep. Jared Golden voting (ME) in favor.
Other measures that passed included:
Rep. Ralph Norman’s (R-SC) amendment to prohibit the display of unapproved flags (e.g. Pride flags) passed 218-213.
Rep. Lauren Boebert’s (R-CO) amendment banning Defense Department schools from purchasing or furnishing library books that “espouse radical gender ideology” passed 222-209.
Rep. Harriet Hageman’s (R-WY) amendment requiring all documents and correspondence of the Countering Extremism Working Group be provided to the Select Subcommittee on the Weaponization of the Federal Government, chaired by Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH), passed 218-213.
Rep. Brandon Williams’ (R-NY) amendment prohibiting federal funds from supporting research conducted by the Chinese government or any of its affiliated entities passed by voice vote.
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