House passes defense bill in tight vote

By Tony Bertuca / July 14, 2023 at 11:16 AM

The House voted 219-210 to pass the annual defense authorization bill today, with most Democrats voting against the legislation because they believed, as some said, it had become an "ode to bigotry and ignorance" after the inclusion of several GOP-backed amendments.

In final count, four Republicans opposed the bill, while four Democrats voted for it.

Democratic leadership from the House Armed Services Committee released a statement last night saying they would not vote for the annual defense authorization bill because the inclusion of GOP-backed amendments have turned it into an “ode to bigotry and ignorance.”

Amendments added to the bill are aligned with the GOP “anti-woke” agenda and take aim at Pentagon policies related to diversity initiatives, climate change mitigation and benefits for service members seeking abortions.

In a statement, led by Rep. Adam Smith (D-WA), the committee's senior Democrats noted that the bill was advanced out of committee by a wide bipartisan vote of 58-1.

“The bill we passed out of committee sent a clear, united message to our allies and partners, global competitors, and the American people that democracy still works, and Congress is still functional,” they said. “We made clear that we are dedicated to recruiting and retaining the strongest, most diverse fighting force and ensuring that everyone, including people of color, women, and LGBTQ+ individuals, would have the same chance to serve without having to work harder or sacrifice more for the same opportunities. That bill no longer exists.”

House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) in a press conference after the vote accused Democrats of playing politics with the bill over “wokeism.”

“They want to make everything partisan and I think that's unfortunate,” he said. “A military cannot defend themselves if you train them in ‘woke,’” he said. “We don’t want Disneyland to train our military.”

House Armed Services Committee Chairman Mike Rogers (R-AL) released a statement praising the bill’s passage, but focused on its provisions aimed at countering China and modernizing U.S. weapon systems.

“This legislation is vital as our nation is faced with unprecedented threats from our adversaries,” he said. “The threat we face from China is the most pressing national security threat we’ve faced in decades -- the FY24 [defense authorization bill] is laser-focused on countering China. The [bill] protects our homeland from threats by investing in a stronger missile defense and modernizing our nuclear deterrent. The legislation also boosts innovation and revitalizes the industrial base to ensure they can deliver the systems we need to prevail in any conflict.”

The bill will now wait until the Democrat-led Senate votes on its version of the legislation -- which is slated to happen next week -- and will then enter conference committee negotiations. Many lawmakers believe the Senate will likely strip out the most politically controversial aspects of the bill.