If nothing else, New York House Republicans provided voters with clarity last week when they joined their colleagues, led by its most extreme MAGA members, in backing a defense bill that would limit abortion access, transgender care and diversity training for military personnel.
The House Republicans also included language barring the Pentagon’s educational arm from buying any book that contains pornographic material or “espouses radical gender ideology.” Yet to be determined is who makes those calls.
With the help of nine Democrats, Republicans also won approval of a policy prohibiting Defense Department schools from teaching that the United States or its founding documents are racist. Wonder if this includes blacks being considered three-fifths of a person at the top of the U.S. Constitution.
And Republicans also added language blocking the Pentagon and the military from carrying out President Biden’s executive orders on climate change.
Does the vote mean that Congressmen Anthony D’Esposito (R-CD3), George Santos (R-CD4) and Andrew Garbadino (R-CD2) – all of whose districts include at least parts of Nassau County – supported everything in the bill?
But it at least shows that the three were willing to go along with the far-right wing of their party in making the culture wars part of the defense bill. Even when the districts Santos and D’Esposito occupy are considered among the most vulnerable in the country for Republicans.
Some Republican legislators in at-risk districts said their votes were not part of an effort by Republicans to bar abortion nationwide as Democrats charged.
They said their opposition was based on a military policy put in place after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down federal abortion rights to provide time off and travel reimbursement to service members who must travel out of state to obtain an abortion.
“This wasn’t a bill about abortion; it was about taxpayers paying for travel for military members for elective procedures,” said Rep. Jen Kiggans, a Virginia Republican who occupies a vulnerable seat and opposes abortion.
That is also true of D’Esposito and Santos.
D’Esposito said during his 2022 House campaign he would support a 15-week ban on abortion.
As a congressman, he has said he was likely to support a national ban and, according to the abortion activist group EMILY’s List, “accepted the endorsement of a right-wing extremist group that wants to ban abortion without exceptions for rape or incest.”
Santos has said he would vote to ban abortion nationwide and supports criminal charges against doctors who perform them.
He is unlikely to be the Republican nominee in 2022 due to his many legal problems and his well-documented history of lying about just about everything.
But Santos’ views on abortion were well known to the Nassau County Republican Party when they nominated him for Congress. Twice.
Even more troubling to us than the opposition of D’Esposito, Santos and their House colleagues to reproductive rights is how they sought to impose their views – by using the military budget.
For 60 years, debates over the military budget have focused exclusively on our nation’s security. It has never been used as a vehicle for culture wars. Until now.
And what happened last week is a threat to this country’s national security – at a time of serious challenges across the globe.
Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, Democrat of New York and the congressional minority leader, had it right when he said “extreme MAGA Republicans have hijacked a bipartisan bill that is essential to our national security and taken it over and weaponized it in order to jam their extreme right-wing ideology down the throats of the American people.”
The restrictions on abortion access, transgender medical care, and diversity training for military personnel will discourage women, transgender people and minorities from enlisting at a time when the military is already falling short of its recruiting goals.
What service member will want to enlist if in doing so they or their spouse can lose control of their reproductive rights by being assigned to a base in a state with restrictive abortion laws? Or be transferred to one later?
And as if to make the Democrats’ point, Rep. Eli Crane, Republican of Arizona made a reference to “colored people” while defending his amendment to keep diversity training from becoming a condition for obtaining or keeping Defense Department jobs.
“Colored” people? In 2023? Really?
The House Republicans’ surrender to extremists comes at a time when U.S. Sen. Tommy Tuberville, a Republican from Alabama who doesn’t think white nationalists are racist, has placed more than 270 military promotions on hold, including the Marine commandant. That has never happened in 160 years.
The reason? The Pentagon’s abortion policy.
D’Esposito, a retired New York City detective, has touted himself as a strong backer of the police and public safety as has virtually every other New York House Republican.
How exactly does that square with legislation that clearly undermines the readiness of our military?
The defense bill will now go to the Democratic-controlled Senate where it has little to no chance of passing.
Lost in the culture wars debate is an $886 billion bill that would grant a 5.2% raise to military personnel, including programs to counter aggressive moves by China and Russia, and establish a special inspector general to oversee U.S. aid to Ukraine.
Ultraconservative House Republicans have already warned they have no intention of giving up on their demands or even compromising with the Senate.
“We are not going to relent, we are not going to back down, we’re not going to give up on the cause that is righteous,” said Rep. Scott Perry, a Republican of Pennsylvania and the chairman of the House Freedom Caucus.
His members, he said, were “going to use every single tool at our disposal” to defend the socially conservative changes to the bill, calling them “a huge victory.”
And in a signal that the far right would have a loud voice in the negotiations, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy said Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia would be a member of his negotiating team with the Senate.
This after the House rejected proposals by Greene to bar the Biden administration from sending cluster munitions to Ukraine and to strip a $300 million program to train and equip Ukrainian soldiers that has been part of the defense bill for almost a decade.
Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida actually did her one better. He had proposed a provision to prohibit Congress from appropriating any more money for Ukraine’s war effort. Nothing would make Vladimir Putin happier.
For the extreme Republicans to wreak havoc on our nation’s defense, they will need the support of House Republicans representing districts considered vulnerable in the 2024 election.
Those districts became even more likely to flip last week in New York when an appeals court sided with Democrats and ordered the state’s congressional map to be redrawn.
The ruling, which Republicans said will be appealed, would give Democrats a chance to tilt the state’s districts in their favor and help recapture four New York congressional districts lost in 2022 after a court found the Democratic-controlled Legislature had violated state law in gerrymandering the maps.
The court, at the time, stripped the Legislature of its mapmaking authority, vesting it in the neutral expert who drew up a map less friendly to Democrats.
We would hope D’Esposito, Garbadino and other New York House Republicans will stand up against the extremists in their caucus in the House’s upcoming negotiations with the Senate.
Call it another test of who they really are.