© 2024 Allbritton Journalism Institute

House Republicans Prepare for an Abortion Fight in a Critical Bill. Again.

Partisan amendments stalled last year’s NDAA for months, but Republicans are allowing them again this year. “They’re going through this because they need to constantly satisfy their MAGA base,” Rep. Jim McGovern told NOTUS.

Beth Van Duyne
Rep. Beth Van Duyne said her Republican colleagues say her anti-abortion amendment to the NDAA is “necessary” Patrick Semansky/AP

Congress descended into partisan chaos last year when Republicans triggered a monthslong debate over a must-pass defense policy bill by trying to amend it with controversial “anti-woke” amendments — and the GOP is looking to do it again.

“This is how it should be. To have amendments is a welcome relief,” Rep. Ralph Norman told NOTUS. “Let the representatives decide to go on record, particularly on some of the [diversity, equity and inclusion] and ‘woke’ stuff. That’s how the system works.”

The House will vote this week on a whopping 350 amendments to the National Defense Authorization Act, a historically bipartisan bill that outlines national security priorities for the Defense Department. One amendment by Rep. Beth Van Duyne would get rid of a Biden administration policy allowing the defense secretary to cover travel-related expenses for service members seeking an abortion.

A similar amendment last year helped stall last year’s NDAA for months. Some Republicans attempted to avoid the same fate this year by moving the NDAA out of the House Armed Services Committee without contentious additions. (It eventually passed after all anti-abortion language was removed.) But those GOP lawmakers lost out.

“If you want something to get … enacted into law in a split Congress, you got to stay somewhere in the middle,” Armed Services Committee Chair Mike Rogers told NOTUS, adding that he hoped Republicans would “stay away” from the partisan battle.

When asked if he had addressed this with the rest of his conference, Rogers said that he has “had more luck talking to that wall right there.”

The Rules Committee decided Tuesday to allow hundreds of amendments, which will likely lead to “no” votes from many Democrats. Speaker Mike Johnson said amendments like Van Duyne’s “have great merit.”

“We have a lot of reaction to Biden administration policies because they had been dismantling the military at a very dangerous time, so we’ve got to rebuild that,” Johnson told NOTUS.

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who was visiting the Capitol on Wednesday, said the process doesn’t feel any more partisan than during his tenure.

“They’re going to vote on 350 [amendments], it’ll be hard to say that the people didn’t have a chance to express their will,” Gingrich said.

Rep. Jim McGovern, ranking member of the House Rules Committee, called the GOP amendments “garbage” and added that if adopted, “Democrats aren’t going to vote for the NDAA.”

“[Republicans] don’t know how to run this place,” McGovern told NOTUS. “With all the crap that they’re adding, this will not become law with that, but I think … they’re going through this because they need to constantly satisfy their MAGA base.”

Van Duyne said her Republican colleagues say her amendment is “necessary” and that Democrats need to “grow up” and support it.

“For [Democrats] to even suggest that they would vote no because of some amendment that they might not agree with is actually pretty darn foolish,” House Majority Whip Tom Emmer told NOTUS.

Democrats, though, are not the only ones concerned about the bill. Some Republicans agreed with Rogers that it was risky to make the bill too partisan.

“On the one hand, I’d like to see some good conservative amendments. But if there’s little or no prospect for them being adopted over in the Senate,” then they should stay away from partisan amendments, said Rep. Doug Lamborn, a member of the House Armed Services Committee. “There’s so much to do this summer with appropriations bills … we don’t have the luxury of spending weeks on the NDAA.”

Oriana González is a reporter at NOTUS. John T. Seward is a NOTUS reporter and an Allbritton Journalism Institute fellow.