The House on Friday morning narrowly passed its $886 billion version of the Fiscal Year 2024 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) with a 219-210 vote, after adopting many contentious GOP-offered amendments that led nearly all Democrats to oppose the legislation.

Following days of debate over Republican proposals that included reversing Pentagon policies on abortion and diversity programs, Democrat leaders on the House Armed Services Committee announced ahead of Friday’s vote they would oppose the legislation they said was now “an ode to bigotry and ignorance.”

Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.), ranking member on the House Armed Services Committee, speaks in opposition to the House’s NDAA as amended during floor consideration on July 14, 2023. Photo: Screenshot of U.S. House floor livestream.

“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,” Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.), the HASC ranking member, said in a joint statement along with the top Democrats on each of the panel’s subcommittees. “That bill no longer exists. What was once an example of compromise and functioning government has become an ode to bigotry and ignorance. Attacks on reproductive rights, access to basic health care, and efforts to address our country’s history of racism and marginalization of huge swaths of our country will worsen our recruitment and retention crisis, make our military less capable, and do grievous harm to our national defense and national security. For these reasons, we cannot and will not vote for the NDAA as amended on the House floor.”

The NDAA, which typically receives largely bipartisan support, ultimately received only four votes from Democrats in favor of the legislation, to include Reps. Don David (D-N.C.), Jared Golden (D-Maine), Marie Gluesenkamp Perez (D-Wash.) and Gabe Vasquez (D-N.M.).

Four Republicans voted against final passage of the bill, Reps. Andy Bigg (R-Ariz.), Ken Buck (R-Colo.), Eli Crane (R-Ariz.) and Thomas Massie (R-Ky.). 

“The threat we face from China is the most pressing national security threat we’ve faced in decades – the FY24 NDAA is laser-focused on countering China. The FY24 NDAA 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,” Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Ala.), the HASC chair, said in a statement following the bill’s passage. “Our adversaries will only be deterred by strength. The FY24 NDAA sends a stern message to our adversaries by bolstering our nation’s defense.”

Smith expounded on his opposition to the bill as amended after Friday’s vote, noting this is not the final version of the legislation as it will still have differences settled with the Senate after the upper chamber passes its own NDAA. 

“Those who have served or are serving with distinction and honor will pay the price. This bill would threaten not just their fundamental rights, but their health, well-being, and potentially their lives as well as the rights, health, and survival of their family members. This bill as amended will worsen the recruitment and retention crisis already strained by legitimate concerns among huge segments of the candidate pool about how they’ll be treated and who understandably question whether the military will give them a fair shot at service and success. It will weaken our military and our national defense,” Smith said.

The Senate Armed Services Committee previously approved its own $886 billion version of the NDAA out of committee in June, with the full Senate expected to begin taking up the legislation next week (Defense Daily, June 23). 

Ahead of the vote on final passage Friday, the House adopted two more amendments among party lines that included a proposal from Rep Jim Banks (R-Ind.) barring the military service academies from using quotas for race and ethnicity in the admissions process and another from Rep. Chip Roy (R-Texas) blocking the Pentagon from carrying out the Biden administration’s climate change executive orders.

After approving 290 amendments on Wednesday that focused on bipartisan and largely noncontroversial measures, the House moved to debate and ultimately adopt contentious GOP proposals to include blocking DoD from covering the travel costs of servicemembers seeking abortion services and prohibiting transgender-related health care treatments (Defense Daily, July 12). 

Rep. Henry Cuellar (R-Texas) was the sole Democrat to vote for both of the above amendments.

The House also adopted proposals from Roy and Ralph Norman (R-S.C.) that block DoD teachings on Critical Race Theory, eliminate chief diversity officer roles and remove Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Offices across the department. 

Several proposals related to cutting security assistance for Ukraine were debated but ultimately voted down on a bipartisan basis, to include one from Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) to specifically remove $300 million in authorized aid while Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) proposed blocking more weapons aid to Kyiv entirely (Defense Daily, July 13). 

“[Ukraine] cannot win without our help. It’s not Americans doing the fighting. It’s Ukrainians doing the fighting, but they cannot prevail without our materiel support,” Rep. Don Bacon (R-Neb.) said on Friday. 

The House also voted 147-276 against a separate proposal from Greene to block the sale or transfer of cluster munitions to Ukraine, which follows the Biden administration’s announcement last week it would supply such weapons as part of a new $800 million weapons aid package for Kyiv (Defense Daily, July 7). 

Lawmakers also voted against proposals from Democratic lawmakers Reps. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) and Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) to reverse the block against reducing the total number of intercontinental ballistic missiles deployed in the U.S. and prohibit funds for further sustainment of B83-1 nuclear gravity bombs.

 “When the Biden administration proposed to begin retiring the B-83 last year, we asked, ‘How are you going to replace them?’ They didn’t have an answer. So Democrats and Republicans agreed on a provision in the FY ‘23 NDAA that allowed the department to retire up to 25 percent of those bombs but prohibited any further retirements until the department completed the study on how to replace that capability. As of today, the Biden Pentagon is still studying the problem and we’re not any closer to the B-83 replacement,” Rogers said of the latter amendment.