July 12, 2019
These days, there aren't a lot of things Congress does on time. That's what makes the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) so unique. For 58 straight years -- no matter who's in power or what issues are being debated -- the NDAA always passed. Of course, it hasn't always been easy. There've been a few close calls over the years -- including this one. Heading into this afternoon's vote, a lot people wondered if the record would fall on the Democrats' watch. It didn't. But the integrity of the bill certainly did.
Most years, just getting the military funded can be a battle. But in 2019, the toughest debate wasn't between the two parties -- it was inside the Democrats' own caucus. For Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), whose liberal wing is used to voting against the NDAA, the heaviest lift was with the party's radicals. Extremists like Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) and Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) were desperate to slash troops' resources and turn the measure into another exercise in social activism.
Unfortunately, with control of the House, Democrats did put their stamp on the bill -- turning a routine debate into a hyper-partisan process. "We think it's more progressive than anything before, but it still has to get better," Jayapal said. After slogging through hundreds of amendments, Team Pelosi put a version on the floor that's bound to make waves at the White House.
Apart from slashing $17 billion from the president's budget request, the House included language that raised red flags on everything from transgenderism and military standards to abortion and bioethics. Under a proposal offered -- and passed -- by Congresswoman Jackie Speier (D-Calif.), the military would be forced to create a new "family planning" program that, not surprisingly, is completely undefined. At best, our troops would probably be subjected to liberal messaging on abortion. At worst, taxpayers would be forced to actually cover abortifacient drugs. A national defense bill, Republicans argued, is no place for either.
As usual, Pelosi's party also took the opportunity to turn TRICARE into a free pill dispenser for controversial drugs like Plan B and ella, which can end a pregnancy. Although birth control was already a routine part of the military's health care plan, this would mark the first time a law would explicitly require forms of contraception that kill embryos. Republicans fought the measure -- arguing, like FRC, the Pentagon should be in the business of protecting people, including the unborn. Ultimately, though, they didn't have the votes to stop it.
Other Democrats rallied around language that would water down the physical standards for troops. Once again, it was Speier lobbying -- this time for "gender-neutral" performance measures. FRC, like many other conservatives, argued against the change. The last thing our military needs is to undermine our troops' readiness with more political correctness. Making matters worse, the amendment, which passed, defines "sex" to include "gender identity," an obvious swipe at the president's restrictions on recruits who identify as transgender.
That's especially interesting in light of the testimony of President Trump's pick for the Joint Chiefs of Staff. During Thursday's Senate Armed Services hearing, Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley calmly deflected missiles from liberal Senator Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), who challenged him on the administration's transgender policy. In my view, we're a standards-based military," Army Chief of Staff General Mark Milley told the Senate Armed Services Committee during his confirmation hearing. "We're concerned about the deployability and effectiveness of any of the service members."
Hirono, who -- like most extremists -- wants a military rooted in social justice and identity politics, pressed harder. Would Milley, if confirmed, carry through with the transgender policy? The general explained that he would. "If you meet the medical, the behavior health, the conduct standards and the physical standards, etc., then it's my view that you should be welcomed in and allowed," Milley replied. "I don't believe there's anything inherent in anyone's identity to prevent them from serving in the military." As President Trump has said, and Milley echoed yesterday, "It's about standards, not an identity."
For now, the House's idea of military defense will move forward -- setting the stage for a potentially explosive clash with the GOP Senate in conference and White House (which already threatened to veto the bill). As Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) pointed out, Pelosi should've taken a page from the Senate debate. "By an 86-8 vote, they came together... [voting for] a very bipartisan bill that focuses on making the right priorities for our national defense." The House version, he pans, "takes a very harsh [and] anti-defense approach." And still, he shook his head, "that's not enough for them." They're going even farther to "try to bring amendments to appease the radical Left, socialist base of Speaker Pelosi's wing."
Tony Perkins' Washington Update is written with the aid of FRC senior writers.