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McCarthy faces challenge of passing defense bill after series of contentious amendments are added

(CNN) — House Speaker Kevin McCarthy faces a challenge Friday morning: A razor thin margin to get a must-pass defense policy bill over the finish line with a majority of Democrats signaling they cannot support the version of the legislation crafted by conservative Republicans.

The bill – known as the National Defense Authorization Act – sets the policy agenda and authorizes funding for the Department of Defense. Republicans voted Thursday to attach a series of amendments to the package that include a variety of conservative policies that target abortion, transgender rights and diversity, equity and inclusion programs, among other social issues.

In a scathing statement, the three House Democratic leaders attacked Republicans for pushing the defense bill to the right as the Democrats move behind the scenes to get their caucus to vote in lockstep against the plan on final passage Friday. Democrats are trying to limit defections, but two sources familiar with the matter say they could lose at most five to six of their members in the vote on final passage. If they lose that many members, it would greatly increase the prospects that Republicans could muscle the bill through.

Without Democratic support, Republicans will need to wrangle nearly every member of the GOP conference in order to get the bill over the finish line. Whatever passes the House would still need to be reconciled with the Democratic-controlled Senate’s version.

The House voted until nearly midnight on Thursday night dealing with a slew of amendments, including adopting a controversial provision eliminating diversity, equity and inclusion programs and staff in the Department of Defense, a tough pill to swallow for Democrats and a win for conservative hardliners.

Rep. Ralph Norman, a Republican from South Carolina, offered the measure that would eliminate all Pentagon DEI programs and personnel. In dramatic fashion the amendment initially failed 216-216 but was considered again and passed 214-213.

Another high-profile amendments that was adopted by the House earlier Thursday evening would prohibit the secretary of defense from paying for or reimbursing expenses relating to abortion services. Many Democrats made clear ahead of the vote that if the amendment was included as part of the defense bill, they would be unlikely to support final passage. The Pentagon’s abortion policy has come under an intense spotlight recently as GOP Sen. Tommy Tuberville has protested it by blocking military nominations and confirmations from quick passage in the chamber.

The House also passed an amendment that would bar a health care program for service members from covering hormone treatments for transgender individuals and gender confirmation surgeries.

Colorado conservative Rep. Lauren Boebert’s amendment to block military schools from purchasing or having “pornographic and radical gender ideology books” in their libraries also passed.

In an overwhelming vote, the House failed to adopt an amendment banning cluster munitions from being sold or transferred to Ukraine. GOP Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia offered the amendment, which failed 147-276.

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