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Republicans Attempt to Hijack Defense Bill With Anti-Transgender Amendments

Republicans Attempt to Hijack Defense Bill With Anti-Transgender Amendments

Matt Rosendale and Ronny Jackson

Far-right lawmakers want to use the bill to target access to abortion, gender-affirming care, and more in the military.

Right-wing members of Congress want to amend this year’s defense spending bill to restrict abortion, gender-affirming health care, and diversity, equity, and inclusion programs for military personnel — and their efforts could seriously hold up the bill or even kill it, although its passage is crucial.

The House of Representatives, which has a Republican majority, Wednesday voted 217-207 to advance the $886 billion National Defense Authorization Act to a final vote, Politico reports. The House Rules Committee had voted Tuesday to let the full chamber consider 290 amendments. But that batch of amendments did not include the ones prioritized by the far right, and Speaker Kevin McCarthy is trying to work out a deal with the most conservative Republicans.

Rep. Matt Rosendale of Montana, for instance, wants to include an amendment that would deny gender-affirming surgery or hormone treatment to transgender troops, according to a memo obtained byPolitico this week. Trans people can serve openly in the military since President Joe Biden lifted predecessor Donald Trump’s trans ban, and they can get their health care covered by insurance.

Rep. Ronny Jackson of Texas wants to deny funding for any abortion-related services. Under a Biden administration policy, troops who are stationed in a state that bans or restricts abortion and seek the procedure in another state can get their travel expenses reimbursed.

Another Texan, Rep. Chip Roy, has said he will likely vote against the bill — something he and other members of the far right do regularly. “Year after year, Republicans pass an NDAA that propagates the cultural rot at [the Department of Defense] while massive contractors get rich,” he said Monday, Politico reports.

“Obviously there’s hot-button issues that need to be addressed and dealt with: abortion, transgender issues, [diversity, equity, and inclusion programs], climate change, all the social engineering going on at DOD that’s destroying our Defense Department,” he told the site later in the week. “We’re trying to figure out how we’re going to pull all that together and get across the finish line.”

For the House, ideally, the bill would cross that finish line would be Friday. But McCarthy told The Washington Post it’s no problem if that doesn’t happen. “We’re going to get it passed. … It doesn’t have to be on a specific time,” he said.

But the Senate, which has a slim Democratic majority, undoubtedly wouldn’t pass a defense bill that included all the right-wing amendments. The House version already has provisions that ban drag shows on military bases and any teaching about critical race theory, while eliminating the Defense Department’s chief diversity officer, the Post reports. Adding the restrictions on abortion and trans health care, plus gutting DEI programs further, would make it even less palatable to Democrats. The Senate hasn't voted on its version of the bill yet, and the two chambers have to reconcile their versions before the measure can go to Biden for his signature.

Democratic lawmakers have spoken out against the far right’s efforts to remake the bill. “To say that we need to kill this good, strong bill because it needs to be more discriminatory against people is something that I would hope the overwhelming majority of this body would reject,” said Democratic Rep. Adam Smith, according to Politico. Republicans from swing districts also want to block some of the extreme amendments, particularly the abortion restrictions, the Post reports.

The Human Rights Campaign has spoken out against the anti-trans efforts. "House Republicans have a choice this week," said a statement from David Stacy, vice president of government affairs. "They can reject these politicized amendments that single out transgender service members and their families or they can embrace the anti-LGBTQ+ extremists in the House of Representatives. We call on the House to reject these cynical and cruel attacks on the LGBTQ+ community, which fly in the face of overwhelming evidence and are being used as a political weapon. Injecting their self-ignited culture war into this national defense bill is a recipe for disaster.”

Meanwhile, two LGBTQ+ Democrats have proposed an amendment to deny funds to Uganda because of its recently enacted antigay law. Rep. Robert Garcia, a gay man from California, and Rep. Becca Balint, a lesbian from Vermont, are sponsoring the amendment, which says, “None of the funds authorized to be appropriated by this Act or otherwise made available to the Department of Defense are authorized to be made available to provide assistance for the Uganda Police Force or Uganda People’s Defense Force, including assistance in the form of equipment or training or to coordinate joint exercises with such groups.”

The African nation already criminalized homosexuality, but the new law expands on that, providing for the death penalty in some situations and making the "promotion of homosexuality" illegal.

Pictured, from left: Republican U.S. Reps. Matt Rosendale and Ronny Jackson

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