‘Re-Name, Relocate, Deny’: Here’s Why The GOP Faces An Uphill Battle In Purging ‘Wokeism’ From The Military

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Micaela Burrow Investigative Reporter, Defense
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  • After pledging to scrub “wokeness” from the military, House Republicans chalked up short-term wins in separate defense funding bills passed recently.
  • However, experts warned that not all the anti-woke provisions will make it to the final bills, while the Pentagon will try to undermine those that do.
  • “If these amendments pass, it will be difficult for the Pentagon to continue many of its progressive programs. But they will try,” the Heritage Foundation’s Thomas Spoehr told the Daily Caller News Foundation.

House Republicans’ planted provisions aimed at stripping funding for racist policies and other “woke” initiatives in the Department of Defense (DOD) in defense budgeting and spending bills for 2024, but major hurdles stand in the way of success, experts told the Daily Caller News Foundation.

If passed, the bills would scourge the Pentagon of policies prioritizing racial diversity, accommodations for transgender individuals and other initiatives Republicans accuse of fomenting division and privileging Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) at the expense of military readiness and merit. While at least some of the provisions will likely survive the legislative process, experts and advocates against “wokeness” in the military warned the Pentagon will fight to slow-walk or circumvent laws it doesn’t like.

“The 118th Congress really does want to do whatever it can, even with existing political limitations, to restore sound policies and mitigate wokeism in the military,” Elaine Donnelly, president of the Center for Military Readiness, told the DCNF. (RELATED: Army’s Top Enlisted Leader Engaged In Hours-Long Twitter Battle Over Pride Post)

She defined “wokeism” as “progressivism taken to extremes and imposed with coercion, even if it hurts the institution,” with policies prioritizing racial and gender diversity over competence and imposing leftist ideas about gender fluidity on troops.

The Biden administration and many Democrats argue that DEI efforts, among other so-called woke activities, create a stronger military by ensuring everyone receives equal opportunity to contribute their differing talents.

Early Thursday, the House Armed Services Committee voted 58-1 on the 2024 National Defense Authorization Act, which authorizes funding for DOD, with some provisional GOP wins on DEI issues.

Those include suspending the Navy’s Digital Ambassador program that platformed a drag queen, a ban on drag shows and story hours at military bases and scrubbing teaching based on Critical Race Theory (CRT) from service academies and training. The committee also advanced a bill eliminating the chief diversity officer position at the Pentagon, but failed to pass a bill totally eliminating DEI training in the military, according to Politico.

Separately, the House Appropriations Committee’s (HAC) defense bill, which would actually allocate funds to DOD, passed subcommittee on June 15 with expansive provisions meant to counter perceived infestation of DEI policies in the military.

Thomas Spoehr, director of the Heritage Foundation’s Center for National Defense, called the HAC bill “the most comprehensive package of legislation in that regard that has ever been proposed. It gets at many of the ills that are currently plaguing the military.”

One section would block all funding “to implement, administer, apply, enforce, or carry out” DOD’s Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Accessibility Strategic Plan for 2022 through 2023.

In effort to maintain a “diverse and dynamic talent pool,” the Pentagon plans to increase representation of minority groups in underrepresented career fields and senior-level positions within the military, according to the strategy.

That same provision blocks implementation of several Biden administration executive orders related to “advancing racial equity” and bans funding for “activities that promote or perpetuate divisive concepts related to race or sex, such as the concepts that one race or sex is inherently superior to another, or that an individual’s moral character or worth is determined by their race.” And, a separate amendment bans DOD from promoting CRT, which could apply to activities such as mandatory diversity trainings.

The bill would also ban hormone therapies and sex-change surgery for transgender service members, drag queen story hours and employing drag queens in recruiting efforts.

Such activities may “violate the Department of Defense Joint Ethics Regulation or bring discredit upon the military,” according to the bill.

And, it carves out free speech protections for those who express sincere religious convictions against non-heterosexual, non-monogamous marriage.

Another proposed law repeals Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin’s memo ordering military services to cover travel expenses female servicemembers incur when going out of state to get an abortion.

The Pentagon’s Reaction

However, DOD will not likely view the provisions as enhancing military readiness and will try to push back, experts predicted.

“If these amendments pass, it will be difficult for the Pentagon to continue many of its progressive programs. But they will try,” Spoehr said.

Language in the bills targets intent and objectives, preventing the Pentagon from simply moving programs around to escape funding restrictions imposed by Congress, according to Spoehr.

But, DOD can draw from its playbook of past instances where it has sought to circumvent Congress’ intent, experts said.

The Pentagon “will try to re-name, relocate, deny, or disguise woke policies,” Donnelly explained. There is a “small army of people who are pushing for those policies from within” who can be absorbed into other elements of the Pentagon’s vast bureaucracy if Congress fails to target their positions for defunding as well.

When Republicans raised concerns about Kelisa Wing, diversity director for DOD’s education system for military kids, over past racist statements and called for her termination, the Pentagon reassigned Wing to another position as part of a “restructuring” within the department.

DOD has another tactic: delay, according to William Thibeau, director of the American Military Project at the Center for the American Way of Life. For example, Congress directed the Army to revise the combat fitness test with gender-neutral standards in the 2023 NDAA after introducing gender-specific grading measures for a new test, but as of April the Army had no plans to alter the test or scoring system, Army Times reported.

So far, the GOP’s anti-woke provisions leave a gaping hole in combating an area of influence that can be difficult to pin down: deciding between candidates on who to assign or promote.

The authorization bill requires DOD to issue policy that all assignments, accessions and promotions should be solely merit-based and blocks quotas of personnel various demographic groups, although Pentagon officials deny any such requirements exist.

The Pentagon’s DEI strategic plan promised to “inculcate DEIA efforts” throughout the department. Although it did not establish diversity quotas, it does mandate “increasing” the number of underrepresented minorities hired or promoted into high-ranking positions to achieve “equity.”

“Chief Diversity Officers will keep reviewing promotions with the power to negatively affect the promotions and careers of anyone who does not fully support woke policies,” Donnelly explained.

“At the end of the day, military officers promote based on their political credibility within the general officer class. Congress has not demonstrated a willingness to scrutinize who wears the uniform at the highest ranks,” said Thibeau.

Issues Left On The Table

HASC did not address abortion, restrictions on enlistment of transgender people or DOD-funded sex change surgeries and hormone therapies, possibly punting the more contentious issues to debate on the full House floor, according to Politico.

In addition, the HAC package does not include anything directly taking on the “watering down of physical fitness standards,” Spoehr said, although there is an amendment in the NDAA addressing fitness shortfalls.

The Republican-dominated House must reconcile its version of the bill with a parallel act being debated in the Democrat-led Senate before the 2024 NDAA hits the president’s desk, and it’s unclear how many amendments may be stripped in the final version.

Experts declined to predict which provisions will make it into the final NDAA and separate defense appropriations bill, although Spoehr pointed out that the HAC provision that targeting the Pentagon’s abortion policy — may garner bipartisan support. Doing so would end Sen. Tommy Tuberville’s hold on military promotions, as Austin and other top defense officials warn extended vacancies could severely weaken the military during a particularly tense geopolitical moment.

“The rumor is that policy was solely driven by the White House, so the Pentagon may not try too desperately to save it,” Spoehr told the DCNF.

Tuberville argues the policy is illegal in the first place.

Finally, assuming several anti-woke provisions become law, gauging their success presents an additional difficulty, experts told the DCNF.

Currently, Congress lacks a clear picture of the true extent of the recruiting crisis and why retention numbers appear not to have suffered as dramatic a fall. DOD does not sufficiently track retention or the effectiveness of its recruiting and retention efforts, according to a Government Accountability Office report from March.

The Pentagon conducts yearly readiness surveys that could offer insight into the success of anti-woke provisions, but those reports are classified and direct cause-effect relationship will not be “immediately obvious to the lay person,” Spoehr explained.

“The services should have to tell Congress the nature of military retention” beyond just whether or not each service met their yearly goals, Thibeau added. “Without new reporting requirements, the picture of DEI in the military will remain muddled.”

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