WASHINGTON — The House narrowly voted down a Republican proposal to bar the Pentagon from paying for gender-transition surgeries.
The proposal from Rep. Vicky Hartzler, R-Mo., endangered Democratic support of the 2018 National Defense Authorization Act. The lower chamber on Thursday failed to adopt it as an amendment to the NDAA in a bipartisan vote, 209-214 — with 24 Republicans joining the minority.
Hartzler and other proponents said they aimed to prioritize limited defense resources and bar troops from a class of procedures that would render them non-deployable. She said the amendment to the annual defense policy bill would have reversed the Obama-era practice of requiring the armed forces to fund medical procedures.
"This is a major surgery that requires a medical diagnosis that will render a person non-deployable," Hartzer said.
California Republican and Iraq war veteran Rep. Duncan Hunter, insisted the amendment was not aimed at barring transgendered persons from military service.
"It you're going to decide to serve the United States military, figure out whether you are a man or a woman before you join up," he said.
The amendment was one of more than 200 sent to the floor by the House Rules Committee this week. The defense bill, which authorizes up to $696 billion in 2018 military spending, is expected to come to a final vote Friday.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and a group of Democratic leaders came to the House floor to condemn the measure as ignorant, "mean-spirited" and discriminatory. They asked Hartzler to withdraw it, to no avail.
Pelosi called the amendment "appalling" and "designed to drum transgender service members out of the military." The proposal was "purpose-built to attack the dignity of men and women serving the military today," she said
"This isn't going to help readiness. This is a social agenda that has no place in this bill," said House Armed Services Committee Ranking Member Rep. Adam Smith, D-Wash.
Democratic opponents said it was inappropriate to pass such a measure while Defense Secretary Jim Mattis was running a review of transgender policy.
House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., gave a tepid appraisal of the Hartzler amendment ahead of the vote on Thursday, stopping short of a clear endorsement.
"I think it's important that we work closely with the DOD on this," he said, referencing the DoD review.
Joe Gould is senior Pentagon reporter for Defense News, covering the intersection of national security policy, politics and the defense industry.