The House NDAA foreshadows Trump’s next term

Stephen Miles is the president of Win Without War. You can follow him on X (formerly Twitter.)

House Republicans have just given us a glimpse into the possible future through their consideration of the Fiscal Year 2025 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), and it’s terrifying. Let’s unpack what just happened.

At its most basic level, the NDAA is the bill that authorizes the Pentagon and associated spending at other agencies, but it’s much more than that. While it authorizes a gargantuan level of spending, nearly one trillion dollars and rising, its real distinction is in being considered one of Congress’ last “must pass” pieces of legislation. Its passage is typically bipartisan, with wide majorities, and contains provisions that touch on nearly every area of federal policy.

In years past, the biggest fights were often about national security and foreign policy, as you’d expect from legislation with ‘national defense’ in the title. How much we should spend at the Pentagon, whether to end the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, closing the prison at Guantanamo Bay, and the like. But starting last year, something pretty big changed, and this year, House Republicans went into overdrive.

The Mandate of Kevin

The bill started out bipartisan, passing the House Armed Services Committee with large bipartisan support, as usual. Then-Speaker Kevin McCarthy, navigating a narrow majority, chose to feed his most MAGA members some red meat by allowing a handful of amendments on the House floor on issues like abortion, LGBTQ rights, and diversity in the military. This turned what had been a bipartisan bill into one of the most partisan ever.

This was, of course, always destined to fail on legislation that needed to pass a Democratic Senate and be signed into law by a Democratic President. So, after months of bluster and bravado, House Republicans did what they’ve had to do on every other piece of major recent legislation and swallowed a compromise bill, one that was popular with a broad bipartisan majority but enraged the far-right MAGA wing of the party.

Which brings us to this year’s NDAA and now-Speaker Johnson navigating an even smaller majority. Rather than recognize reality, work with Democrats, and engage in an honest, robust debate on the myriad of genuine national security threats our country and the world face, Speaker Johnson decided to double down and give even more control to the far-right of his caucus.

This created the fascinating, if horrifying, opportunity to view just what the future may hold should November’s election return unified Republican control to government. It’s a far reaching, radical agenda, so let’s dig in.

Red Meat for the Red Meat Caucus

It’s worth starting with national security and foreign policy, the ostensible focus of the underlying bill. Three issues dominated: Israel and Gaza, China, and Ukraine. Sadly, the overwhelming focus of these amendments and the ensuing floor debate was mostly scoring partisan political points. There was little to no grappling with the complexity of these challenges, honest debate around our nation’s actual goals, or interest in de-escalating geopolitical tensions.

Beyond those issues though, we got an even clearer sense of where a future MAGA majority might take governing. Far from the focus on actual questions of national defense, Republican amendments to the NDAA quickly veered into a litany of far right fever dreams. Reps. Reschenthaler, Greene, and Gosar targeted electric cars while Rep. Biggs focused on trying to gut the Endangered Species Act. Reps. Banks, Norman, and Higgins offered amendments both eliminating diversity focused jobs and offices at the Department of Defense and also barring any such positions in the future. Rep. Ogles had an anti-mask covid conspiracy amendment while a host of Republicans led amendments targeting trans individuals’ access to healthcare. There were also amendments attacking pride flags, drag shows, and women in the military. There was even an amendment from Rep. Boebert to ban the government from trying to confront domestic terrorism. That’s right, Rep. Boebert amended the national defense bill to bar us from defending the nation.

But there was so much more. Perhaps not surprisingly for a party that has made immigration its focus lately, the NDAA featured multiple amendments on the issue, though as with others, there was little to no serious attempts to grapple with a complex issue. Instead we got amendments imagining an immigrant threat to military bases, inventing false analogies to demonize immigrants, and even trying to kick Mexico out of North America. Seriously. But the real window into a possible MAGA future is Rep. Crenshaw’s amendment to require the Secretary of Defense to come up with plans to go to war in Mexico. Yes, you read that right, plans for a U.S. war in Mexico. And this isn’t a case of one random member of Congress with outrageous ideas, it’s in lockstep with the apparent plans of the soon-to-be Republican nominee for President.

Lost causes and MAGA monuments

Two final amendments really complete the emerging picture. The first, not surprisingly, is a repeat of the anti-abortion amendment that nearly tanked the entire NDAA last year. Sponsored by dozens of Republicans and adopted on a near party line vote, there’s little reason to believe that this year’s effort will be any more successful in overcoming opposition in the Senate and the White House. However, with control of the Senate and the White House possible to change, it is worth understanding that this provision is likely the floor, not the ceiling of anti-abortion efforts likely to be included in future NDAAs.

But perhaps no other amendment is more revealing than one by Reps. Clyde and Good to force the military to re-install a monument to the Confederacy at Arlington National Cemetery. Arlington, of course, has a complex history deeply tied to the Civil War, but this effort is nothing but pure white supremacy and an attempt to erase the horrific legacy of slavery. It is cold comfort that two dozen Republicans joined with all House Democrats to narrowly defeat this amendment given the very real possibility that an increased Republican majority would pass it and other similar pieces of legislation, openly glorifying some of our nation’s darkest hours.

And while a handful of other Republican amendments similarly narrowly failed given the slim House majority and united Democratic opposition, the vast majority passed. Just like last year, House Democrats overwhelmingly voted against the final bill and Republicans sent it to the Senate by the slimmest of margins. The Senate is now working on its own bill, and the two will likely ultimately head to a conference committee where, in consultation with the White House, Republicans will be forced to drop most, but not all, of these provisions.

Yet, House Republicans have now given one of their clearest views yet into how they will govern next year under possible unified control of Congress and the White House. It’s a terrifying vision, one driven by hate, conspiracy, and bigotry. It’s one that sacrifices genuine efforts to protect people in the United States and around the world in favor of partisan efforts to wage culture wars, limit freedom, and threaten lives.

It’s a dark, deeply disturbing vision of a future we may find ourselves in very soon, and we can’t say we weren’t warned.