Update: This story was updated on October 3 at 6:07 PM after the House voted to remove McCarthy as speaker.
WASHINGTON ― As House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., fights to hold onto his position this week, Democrats have made clear he can’t count on their support, partly because of lingering resentment over the annual defense policy bill.
A 216-210 vote on Tuesday ousted McCarthy as speaker after Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., followed through on threats to remove him from power. Gaetz filed the motion to remove McCarthy after the Republican leader worked with Democrats at the last minute this weekend to pass a short-term funding bill needed to avoid a government shutdown.
The brief bipartisan moment did little to endear McCarthy to Democrats, and the speaker did not offer them any concessions to win their votes despite his slim majority. Democrats subsequently voted with Gaetz and a small group of conservative Republicans, teeing up what could be another prolonged speakership battle for McCarthy in less than a year.
Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., released a letter after a meeting with his caucus Tuesday morning, citing the House’s fiscal 2024 defense policy bill as one of the reasons for Democrats’ refusal to back McCarthy.
“The Armed Services Committee this summer worked hard to advance a strongly bipartisan National Defense Authorization Act to the House Floor,” Jeffries wrote. “Instead of supporting our military readiness and embracing this bipartisan legislative effort, Republicans hijacked the National Defense Authorization Act and turned the bill into a right-wing wish list full of highly partisan poison pills.”
The House narrowly passed 219-210 the National Defense Authorization Act in July largely along party lines after Republicans added several socially conservative provisions pushed by Gaetz and other members of the conservative Freedom Caucus. Except on rare occasions, Congress usually passes the NDAA with robust bipartisan support.
“The House Republican decision to jam their extreme right-wing ideology down the throats of the American people included radical provisions to rip away reproductive freedom from military women,” Jeffries wrote. “This type of extreme governance is unacceptable.”
The House’s $874 billion NDAA includes amendments that overturn the Pentagon’s abortion leave policy, restrict medical care for transgender troops, eliminate military diversity initiatives and bar the Pentagon from implementing President Joe Biden’s climate change initiatives.
The Senate passed 86-11 its own bipartisan NDAA in July without the socially conservative policy and climate provisions, teeing up complicated negotiations on a final bill between the two chambers in the weeks ahead.
Jeffries also cited House Republicans’ recent impeachment inquiry into Biden as a reason his caucus would not support McCarthy. Additionally, his letter faulted a series of concessions McCarthy made to the Freedom Caucus that gave them more power over House procedures and floor votes in order to win his weeklong speakership battle in January.
Bryant Harris is the Congress reporter for Defense News. He has covered U.S. foreign policy, national security, international affairs and politics in Washington since 2014. He has also written for Foreign Policy, Al-Monitor, Al Jazeera English and IPS News.