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House conservatives torpedo rule on Defense spending bill

McCarthy said he would force a vote, 'win or lose'

Rep. Andy Biggs, R-Ariz., was among five Republicans who voted with Democrats against bringing up the fiscal 2024 Defense spending bill on the House floor.
Rep. Andy Biggs, R-Ariz., was among five Republicans who voted with Democrats against bringing up the fiscal 2024 Defense spending bill on the House floor. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

House Republicans fell short in their effort to muster the votes Tuesday to begin consideration of the fiscal 2024 Defense appropriations bill, leaving the chamber in limbo over next year’s spending plans as the funding deadline looms.

Five GOP lawmakers joined with Democrats to tank adoption of the rule tied to the $826.4 billion Pentagon bill amid ongoing conservative opposition to issues unrelated to military funding.

The Republican no-votes were Reps. Andy Biggs of Arizona, Dan Bishop of North Carolina, Ken Buck of Colorado, Ralph Norman of South Carolina and Matt Rosendale of Montana.

In the lead-up to the vote, speculation grew that leadership would ultimately pull the rule from the floor for the second time in as many weeks — despite Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s recent pledge to bring the Defense bill to the floor this week “win or lose,” as he said during a Fox Sunday show.

But the House forged ahead with an hourlong debate on the rule, even as a key Republican proponent acknowledged the difficulty the measure faced among his caucus.

“If we get this bill across the floor and I do say ‘if’ because there’s some controversy about whether or not we’ll make it even on our own side, even though nobody over here disagrees with the rule or disagrees with the bill,” Rules Committee Chairman Tom Cole, R-Okla., said on the floor. “They have other points sometimes they want to make; sadly it shouldn’t be in this bill.”

The rule would have submitted for consideration 184 amendments to the Defense bill, including provisions that would cater to positions held by the ultra-conservative wing of the House GOP. That includes measures to limit security assistance to Ukraine, cut various Pentagon officials’ salaries to $1 a year, and more.

The underlying bill elicited a White House veto threat last week over the legislation’s “partisan policy provisions” — language that has also drawn scorn from House Democrats, who unanimously opposed adoption of the rule Tuesday.

Meanwhile, Rules Committee ranking member Jim McGovern, D-Mass., slammed what he called “incompetent” Republican leaders in remarks on the floor ahead of the vote.

“We have 11 days to go before there is a shutdown, and they are going in the wrong direction,” he said. “It has become more and more difficult to get to an agreement. Enough. Enough. Republican leadership of this House is incompetent. They’re so incompetent it takes my breath away. They’re letting the clowns run the circus.”

Defense hawks lament

In the aftermath of the vote, Republican defense hawks decried the setback and, in one case, their colleagues who broke rank to oppose the rule.

Defense appropriator Mike Garcia lamented that what he called “the most conservative DOD bill in modern history” won’t progress because of a small GOP minority. He added the decision “handed a win to the Chinese Communist Party.”

“So our inability to bring this package to a floor vote because of these five individuals who decided to put their personal agendas ahead of the basic requirements of our troops is extremely upsetting to us,” the California Republican said in a news conference on the steps of the Capitol.

And Defense Appropriations Subcommittee Chair Ken Calvert, R-Calif., wrote in a post on X, formerly known as Twitter: “I said it last week and I’ll say it again, the U.S. military should never be held hostage to procedural votes in Congress. Our men and women in uniform deserve better.”

But Cole attempted to spin the vote, telling reporters after the vote that the GOP conference “did maintain ranks around a defense bill” by only losing “five members out of 222.”

“This really says more about these five members and whatever their concerns are, they’re clearly more important to them than us succeeding as a team,” he said. “That’s their right.”

Going forward, Rep. Patrick T. McHenry, R-N.C., an ally of McCarthy, acknowledged to reporters that the vote is “a message about what’s to come, and we understand that” as it relates to a proposed stopgap spending bill to keep the government funded past the end of the fiscal year on Sept. 30.

The House Tuesday pushed back a planned vote on a rule tied to the continuing resolution as lawmakers weighed deeper spending cuts to appease conservative detractors.

“We’re trying to do our best to get legislation on the floor so that we can negotiate with the Senate,” McHenry said.

Ellyn Ferguson, David Lerman, and Mark Satter contributed to this report.

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