Several House Republicans are working behind the scenes to revive a failed effort to bar the Pentagon from funding gender reassignment surgeries for troops.
A mix of GOP defense hawks and conservatives are urging Speaker Paul Ryan and his team to use a procedural trick to automatically include the controversial proposal in a spending package set for floor consideration next week.
If Ryan doesn’t go along with that plan, they want him to give them a second shot at passing the amendment on the floor — a prospect that would anger the proposal’s opponents.
"Steps must be taken to address this misuse of our precious defense dollars," Rep. Vicky Hartzler (R-Mo.), the author of the proposal, said in a statement. "This policy hurts our military’s readiness and will take over a billion dollars from the Department of Defense’s budget. This is still an important issue that needs to be addressed.”
Hartzler’s initiative would end a President Barack Obama-era policy that let the Defense Department pay for gender reassignment surgeries and treatments for transgender active-duty personnel. Last week, 24 mostly moderate Republicans teamed up with 190 Democrats to kill the effort to end the policy, voting 209 to 214 against Hartzler’s amendment to a defense authorization bill. Six Republicans did not vote on the measure at all.
But some Republicans can’t let it go. They’re urging leadership to tuck the provision into a rules package governing the GOP’s appropriation legislation, ensuring it would become part of the text without another vote. Or, if that won’t work, they want leadership to let them try to pass it again.
“The federal government has no business paying for that procedure,” said Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Ala.), a supporter of the amendment who sits on the House Armed Services Committee. “A lot of us feel very strongly about that, and we want a chance to have that in the bill.”
Asked about the matter Wednesday, House Rules Committee Chairman Pete Sessions, who supported the amendment on the floor, said, “I’m not prepared to discuss it because I’m not to a point that a decision’s been made.”
However, several senior Republican sources predicted leadership would reject the plea to add the Hartzler amendment to a House rule — namely because it would circumvent regular order. It’s unclear whether they would allow a separate floor amendment on the proposal.
There’s concern that the pitch could sink the entire appropriations package by triggering centrist Republicans to bring down the rule. Moderates who opposed the amendment, including Tuesday Group leaders Charlie Dent of Pennsylvania and Elise Stefanik of New York, are pushing back against the revived effort. They’ve argued that the amendment, which opponents say discriminates against transgender individuals, shouldn’t be allowed on the floor again because it was already voted down.
“Leadership should respect the will of the House — and that’s already been expressed,” said Rep. Carlos Curbelo, a centrist from Miami who opposed the amendment. “These transgender service-people are serving our country and have signed up and agreed to risk their lives for this country, so we want to honor that commitment as well.”
Another centrist was more blunt on background: "[Hartzler] had her shot; she lost."
Centrists argue that Defense Secretary James Mattis asked Congress not to interfere in the matter until he finished a review of the Obama-era policy and determines his own next steps. Supporters, however, say the military should not be spending money on gender-reassignment operations.
“It’s not so much the transgender surgery issue as much as we continue to let the defense bill be the mule for all of these social experiments that the left wants to try to hoist on government,” said Rep. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.), a conservative supporter of the Hartzler proposal.
He added: “It seems to me, and all due respect to everyone, that if someone wants to come to the military, potentially risk their life to save the country, that they should probably decide whether they’re man or woman before they do that.”
Most of the GOP conference agrees with Franks — one of the few reasons leadership would even hear an argument to tuck the provision into the rule. In fact, most Republicans expected the Hartzler amendment to sail to adoption and were shocked when it fell.
The morning after the provision went down, Republicans spent a good chuck of a closed-door GOP conference meeting harping about what happened.
Supporters now think they could possibly see a different outcome if the amendment comes up again. They may be right: Six Republicans did not vote or were absent, including: Reps. Sam Johnson of Texas, Raúl Labrador of Idaho, Mark Sanford of South Carolina, David Valadao of California, Rodney Davis of Illinois and Steve Scalise of Louisiana who is still in the hospital recovering from a gun shot wound.
It’s possible some of those members would vote yes if it comes up a second time. In addition, Republican freshman Brian Mast of Florida, who voted against the provision, has since said he meant to vote for it.