“I don’t know what this will look like yet, but… it’s a concern I’ve heard expressed by almost every Republican colleague on and off the committee,” Banks added.
Republicans have sought leadership from the Pentagon for months, saying the department’s efforts to increase diversity and root out extremism silence conservatives and undermine the military’s core mission.
The problem came to a head this week as Republican Representatives Matt Gaetz and Michael Waltz mingled with Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Mark Milley over critical race theory during a hearing of the Armed Services Committee. Milley’s fiery response – where the four-star general countered that claims the military is too “awake” are “offensive” – has gone viral, but has drawn more criticism from conservative experts.
Leading Republicans are telegraphing that critical race theory and other corner issues will be on the agenda when the committee reviews the Defense Policy Bill in September, and that they expect that military personnel issues provide some of the clearest red lines for whether the GOP will support the bill.
“This is going to be an important topic of debate in the markup that we will have on September 1, because there is a frustration about awakening and indoctrination in the military which is not their role,” he said. said Representative Mike Rogers of Alabama. the top Republican on the House Armed Services Committee told POLITICO.
Rogers said last month he wanted the defense bill to address what he sees as political bias against the Conservatives in the ranks. He did not say what such a proposal would entail, but called on Republicans and “free speech Democrats” to join him in the effort.
Waltz warned earlier this month that he could push to include legislation he co-sponsored to ban military service academies from promoting critical race theory. This question may arise during the debate on the defense bill.
The slim Democratic majority in the House means GOP support will be needed to pass the NDAA later this year, but Republicans have yet to decide which issues to highlight in the defense debate.
So far, major Republicans are spending most of their political capital elsewhere, including trying to increase the defense budget above the essentially flat $ 715 billion Pentagon proposal President Joe Biden has put forward. offered last month.
Across the House, however, Banks, who heads the largest Conservative caucus in the House, is pushing his fellow Republicans to address the anti-critical rhetoric of racial theory – a concept that argues that American institutions have were put in place to reinforce racism. Banks on Thursday sent RSC members a memo titled “Lean into the culture war,” as the right seeks to capitalize on the issue.
“It is a dangerous ideology to push our troops in any form,” Banks told POLITICO. “This is something the American people categorically reject.”
Red lines on NDAA: Unlike in previous years when battles for military hardware, nuclear weapons, and warring powers were partisan sticking points, Republicans predict that a host of personnel issues could shift their voices.
This includes how the panel is tackling extremism in the military as well as a Democratic push to enshrine in law the ability of transgender troops to serve openly.
Rogers, who has a strong working relationship with President of the Armed Services Adam Smith (D-Wash.), Said he had warned that certain “social stuff” would be a red line for Republicans.
“I said the issues that would cause Republicans not to vote yes lie with the military personnel subcommittee,” Rogers said. “And I said, ‘You have to master it.'”
How will Republicans use their leverage? Republicans are confident their votes will ultimately be needed to pass a defense bill in the House this fall, with a slim Democratic majority and a cadre of progressives opposed to historically large defense budgets, making passage of a bill with only Democrats impractical.
And while conservatives may call for votes on some corner issues, Republican leaders have focused on efforts to increase the defense budget. Rogers and other high-ranking Republicans in the armed services have criticized the Biden administration for proposing a Pentagon budget that does not match the expected rate of inflation, arguing that a much larger increase is needed to compete with the Chinese and Russian military who are modernizing rapidly.
The Alabama Republican has predicted that extremism and race will not dominate committee deliberations as he will focus on whether the budget is sufficient to defend the country.
“You’re going to see that most of what we’re focusing on is trying to make sure they have what they need to deal with the threat of stimulation, as they call it, from China, and this budget is grossly insufficient, ”said Rogers.
“My frustration is in this hearing, 95% of the discussion was about the insufficient budget,” Rogers said of the difficult discussions between lawmakers and Pentagon leaders on Wednesday. “And because this the problem arises and it is the shining element of the day, it becomes the dominant thing in the news media. And I really believe Milley contributed to that. “
‘Straw man’: Like Rogers, Smith said he is not worried at this time that the debate on cultural issues will spiral out of control when his committee tackles the defense bill. Yet he has sounded Republicans as seeking to “do away with” race issues in the United States and using the specter of critical race theory to avoid an honest discussion of racism. The Washington State Democrat also praised Austin’s handling of extremism and racism in the military.
“Republicans just want to get into political theater, put together a straw man – critical race theory – and overthrow it instead of actually tackling the problem,” Smith said.
“What’s unfortunate is that there is a real problem in this country with systemic racism, with white supremacy and with extremist groups,” Smith added. “This is a legitimate problem that needs to be resolved, and what Republicans mean is that this is a critical race theory. It is not.”