Senate GOP Works In Anti-‘Woke’ Provisions To Defense Bill Despite Democrat Majority

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Micaela Burrow Investigative Reporter, Defense
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  • The Senate Armed Services Committee passed a defense policy bill that includes provisions aiming to hold the Pentagon accountable for its diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) programs.
  • Despite a Democratic majority in the Senate, the committee agreed on the $886 billion bill and called for even higher spending.
  • “The Pentagon has to remain focused on deterrence rather than a toxic and divisive social agenda,” Republican Sen. Roger Wicker of Mississippi said in a social media statement after the bill passed.

Defense legislation approved by a key Senate committee Thursday seeks to limit the Pentagon’s diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) spending amid Republican criticism that such efforts are damaging to military readiness.

The Senate Armed Services Committee authorized an $886.3 billion defense budget for 2024 after hammering out its annual defense policy bill on Wednesday and Thursday behind closed doors, according to a summary of the bill released Friday. While the committee has not published the full text of the bill, the summary and GOP senators touted provisions they said would hold the DEI bureaucracy in the Pentagon accountable and ensure servicemembers are treated on the basis of ability, not race or gender, but does not appear to specifically address ongoing DEI programs in the Department of Defense (DOD).

“The Pentagon has to remain focused on deterrence rather than a toxic and divisive social agenda,” Republican Sen. Roger Wicker of Mississippi said in a social media statement after the bill passed. (RELATED: ‘Re-Name, Relocate, Deny’: Here’s Why The GOP Faces An Uphill Battle In Purging ‘Wokeism’ From The Military)

“As an Air Force veteran myself, I will continue fighting to protect our armed forces’ culture of personal achievement that helps make military service such a badge of honor,” he added.

Democrats hold the majority in the Senate, meaning Republicans will have a more difficult time including provisions on issues like DEI that split largely along party lines.

One provision would force the Pentagon to adopt a “merit-based” definition of “equity” as “the right of all persons to have the opportunity to participate in, and benefit from, programs, and activities for which they are qualified,” the summary states. In addition, DOD would not be allowed to base training on the idea that any race or gender is superior to another, according to the legislation.

The bill also requires the Pentagon to disclose the cost and content of DEI training given to civilian and military employees and places caps on how much employees of the department’s numerous diversity offices can make.

However, it appears the legislation does not go as far as the companion bill in the Republican-dominated House in combating DEI in the military. The House bill requires similar reporting, but would eliminate the Pentagon’s chief of Diversity and Inclusion altogether.

The Senate version requires service academies to report on efforts to increase diversity among the officer corps, including ways to increase recruiting outreach to Title I schools, according to the summary. Internal DOD reports have found that the number of minority officers drops off significantly among higher ranks.

Sen. Joni Ernst attempted to overturn the Pentagon’s covered travel policy for female servicemembers and dependents who seek abortions out of state, but her separate bill failed to obtain the necessary votes, according to Politico. Instead, the NDAA draft directs a report on the legality of the policy and how DOD is monitoring its implementation.

Senators debated about 400 amendments in addition to the roughly 1000 provisions in the base bill, a senior committee aide told reporters, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss the legislation.

Only Democratic Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren voted against the bill, according to Defense News. It will proceed to the full Senate floor for further debate.

Leaders of both parties expressed concern that President Joe Biden’s proposed defense budget is inadequate to address U.S. defense needs, including supporting Ukraine and building up the military’s arsenal amid a ballooning Chinese threat.

A nonbinding amendment notes “that there are growing national security concerns that require additional funds beyond the defense spending limit” and calls for supplemental funding, according to the summary.

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