Reps. Mikie Sherrill (D-NJ) and Chrissy Houlahan (D-PA), the only two female Democratic veterans in the House, expressed shock Friday that the vast majority of House Republican “moderates” voted for a bundle of far-right amendments on the defense bill the evening before.
“I really was expecting on the order of maybe 15 or so of my colleagues on the Republican side to do the right thing and to vote against these couple few disruptive amendments,” Houlahan told reporters.
The amendments that garnered most of the scrutiny include those that would prohibit the Defense Secretary from covering or reimbursing service members’ abortion-related expenses, would exclude transition-related medical procedures from health care coverage and would eliminate offices of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. All of those amendments passed in the House.
“There are those across the aisle…who realize that this is bad and I find that shocking too,” Sherrill added, referring specifically to the abortion amendment. “So they will say, ‘this is a really bad idea,’ ‘this is not where the party should be going,’ ‘this is a mistake’ — well then why did everyone but two people in the Republican conference vote for this really bad amendment?”
“That was shocking to me,” she continued. “I did not anticipate that — that did surprise me, especially given what I was hearing from members across the aisle who I thought would vote against that amendment.”
Houlahan added that some Republicans had reached out to her to suss out whether there were enough Democratic votes to pass the original bill as it came out of committee with a huge bipartisan majority, sans the culture war amendments. She said that she eagerly supported the idea and started making calls to her colleagues.
“Of course, that never happened,” she said. “Instead we went down this path for the last two days of nonsensical amendments that do nothing but divide and destroy our country.”
The ultimate inclusion of the amendments reveals the constant difficulty House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) has in navigating must-pass legislation through the Scylla and Charybdis of his party’s obstruction and culture war-happy right flank.
That contingent punished him for days after he passed the debt ceiling law on the backs of Democrats, grinding the House floor to a halt and blocking many of its own bills. In an attempt to appease those members now, the House has produced a defense bill that is dead on arrival in the Democratic-majority Senate. That has the knock-on effect of perhaps making a government shutdown more likely down the road, to the extent that it draws out and complicates this one piece of the government-funding process.
When faced with the prospect of how they’d vote if the bill that ultimately comes out of the conference committee — the legislative stop where the House and Senate versions of the bill are reconciled — includes the abortion amendment, both Houlahan and Sherrill were quick to say that they couldn’t imagine that happening.
“I can’t see a world where this makes it through conference,” Sherrill said. “That would imperil the bill and I have real doubt that the President would sign that.”
“I’m not ready to comment on where I would be if this remained here — I would be stunned if it did,” added Houlahan.
The House passed the amended version of the bill Friday morning. In the upper chamber, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) filed cloture on the Senate version of the defense bill on Thursday, setting up the first procedural vote next week.