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Rep. Sherrill denounces controversial amendments blocking passing of the NDAA

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Every year for the past six decades, Congress has passed the National Defense Authorization Act - the NDAA. Normally, it passes with overwhelming bipartisan support. This year, the proposed $886-billion bill to fund the U.S. military is stuck. Republican House Speaker Kevin McCarthy is facing roadblocks from members of his own party, lawmakers pushing to amend the act - specifically, policies on transgender health care, diversity and abortion - while other members of Congress are pushing back - among them, New Jersey Democrat Mikie Sherrill. She's a former Navy helicopter pilot and a member of the Armed Services Committee, and she is on the line now from Capitol Hill.

Congresswoman, welcome to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

MIKIE SHERRILL: Thanks so much for having me.

KELLY: Is there any movement at all, or is everyone as dug in as ever today?

SHERRILL: Well, I actually just got off the floor. I was controlling time for the debate on the travel ban by Rep. Jackson. This is a ban that would take away the Department of Defense's ability to pay for women to travel and give them time off if they need to seek reproductive health care outside of the state they're stationed in.

KELLY: This is also just, by the way, what is at stake in this hold that Republican Senator Tommy Tuberville of Alabama is - he's blocking hundreds of military promotions to protest this same Pentagon abortion policy.

SHERRILL: Yes.

KELLY: Yeah.

SHERRILL: He's actually blocking all flag officer promotions right now. We now have no commandant of the Marine Corps because of that. And he's really doing so to impose his sort of far-right extremist view on servicewomen and service members' families. And that's why I think, you know, somebody like myself - I have Picatinny Arsenal in my district. I've worked incredibly hard to support the men and women who work there. I'm also a veteran myself. And so this is the first time I'm considering voting against the Defense Act.

KELLY: If it gets amended in the way that some House Republicans would like to see it amended. OK. So just to be clear, there's a couple of things going on here. We have a senator who's got a hold on hundreds of military promotions, as we said. Meanwhile, in the House, the defense bill is not getting passed. I want to step back from the politics and just ask, for the military, if this continues to be held up, what are the consequences?

SHERRILL: Oh, gosh. I mean, this is really worst-case scenario. As we're continuing to try to support Ukraine, as we're looking to make sure that we deter aggression from China in places like Taiwan, as we want to make sure that our defense base is ready for any threats we have, these things are all at stake right now. And to take the far-right extremist social agenda that the Freedom Caucus and the GOP has and to allow them to run roughshod, it really tries to impose this agenda on the men and women who serve.

KELLY: You know, I mentioned, Congresswoman, this bill has passed every year for six decades - so something like 60 years - usually with overwhelming bipartisan support. What has changed this year?

SHERRILL: Well, I think what we're seeing is an attempt by far-right Republicans to enact a nationwide abortion ban. The attack on choice does not end with the overturning of Roe.

KELLY: Before I let you go, it occurs to me to ask you - if you were back in your old job as a Navy pilot, watching from a war zone as this debate plays out on Capitol Hill, what would be going through your mind?

SHERRILL: Well, that's what's really breaking my heart right now. Here we have men and women who are depending on us - depending on me - to make sure that they get paid, that their families are taken care of. So to be at this point where, you know, we're on the brink of this and trying to decide between making sure that we don't have a bill that is very punitive against servicewomen and service members' families and banning their travel for reproductive health care and making sure we're paying our troops and taking care of them and getting them the best possible equipment - that's a horrible place to be.

KELLY: That is Democratic Congresswoman Mikie Sherrill of New Jersey. Thank you very much.

SHERRILL: Thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Erika Ryan
Erika Ryan is a producer for All Things Considered. She joined NPR after spending 4 years at CNN, where she worked for various shows and CNN.com in Atlanta and Washington, D.C. Ryan began her career in journalism as a print reporter covering arts and culture. She's a graduate of the University of South Carolina, and currently lives in Washington, D.C., with her dog, Millie.
Christopher Intagliata is an editor at All Things Considered, where he writes news and edits interviews with politicians, musicians, restaurant owners, scientists and many of the other voices heard on the air.
Mary Louise Kelly is a co-host of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning afternoon newsmagazine.