House Passes $738 Billion Military Bill With Space Force and Parental Leave – The New York Times

WASHINGTON — The House on Wednesday passed a $738 billion military policy bill that would authorize the creation of the Space Force championed by President Trump as the sixth branch of the military and secure paid parental leave for more than two million federal workers.

The 377-to-48 vote reflected broad bipartisan support for the compromise package, one of the nation’s most expensive military policy bills to date. It passed over the opposition of a bloc of progressive Democrats and libertarian-minded Republicans who objected to its steep price tag and its omission of provisions they had proposed to limit the president’s power on an array of military matters.

Most House Republicans threw their support behind the measure, joining with Democrats to ensure its passage. It was part of a year-end burst of bipartisan legislating that has broken out this week, even as the Democratic-led House moves toward impeaching Mr. Trump.

The approval of the package marked a resolution to months of partisan fighting over exactly what would be contained in the must-pass legislation. In July, the House passed its version of the bill, which sought to rein in Mr. Trump’s authority on policy after policy, over Republican opposition.

That touched off a behind-the-scenes round of haggling in which lawmakers had to reconcile the House bill with a far less confrontational version passed in the Republican-controlled Senate. Determined to meet the year-end deadline for renewing the legislation and demonstrate their party could legislate on issues of national security even as they pursue the president’s removal, Democratic negotiators conceded on a series of hot-button issues.

“This is exactly what the American people have been demanding of government, that we can actually move forward on legislating, on governing, to show that we are adults that are able to get things done on issues of national security,” said Representative Andy Kim, a freshman Democrat who represents a New Jersey district that voted for Mr. Trump in 2016. “Even in a time of divided government.”

The Senate is expected to take up the compromise bill and send it to the president’s desk as early as next week.

But the compromise left some liberal Democrats seething.

While it does not authorize any money to replenish military construction funds Mr. Trump diverted to pay for his wall on the southern border, it also does not contain a measure backed by Democrats to prevent him from raiding the fund in the future. Stronger language that would have forced the cleanup of a dangerous class of chemicals, known as PFAS, was dropped. And the final version jettisoned several other provisions passed by House Democrats: to ban new detainees from being placed at the military detention facility at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba; to prohibit the sale of certain types of munitions to Saudi Arabia; and to require Mr. Trump to seek congressional approval before taking any military action against Iran.

Representative Ilhan Omar, Democrat of Minnesota, said in a statement that she would not support the bill even though it contained some amendments she sponsored. “This bill commits the U.S. to endless involvement in the Saudi-led war in Yemen, continues funding for endless war” under a 2001 military authorization and “does nothing to prevent the administration from launching a disastrous war with Iran,” she said.

But Democratic leaders trumpeted the bill for what it did contain: a White House-approved measure that would extend 12 weeks of paid parental leave to civilian federal employees, a 3 percent pay raise for troops and the end to a Defense Department policy known as the widow’s tax, which prevents the surviving family members of military personnel from receiving their full benefits.

Representative Adam Smith, Democrat of Washington and the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, issued a scathing defense of the bill on Wednesday, calling it “the most progressive defense bill we have passed in decades.”

“Throughout the negotiations I failed in one way: I was unable to turn President Trump, Leader McConnell and Chairman Inhofe into Democrats and convince them to suddenly accept all of the provisions they despise,” he said in the statement, referring to Senators Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the majority leader, and James M. Inhofe of Oklahoma, the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Mr. Smith led the final stages of the negotiations off Capitol Hill and bargained directly with Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and senior adviser, according to three officials familiar with the private talks who insisted on anonymity to describe them. Mr. Smith declined on Wednesday to comment on Mr. Kushner’s role or the broader negotiations.

Most of the provisions in the compromise bill had already been finalized by the time discussions reached him. But it was Mr. Kushner who helped broker a deal to create the Space Force, a chief priority of the president’s, in exchange for the paid parental leave, a measure championed by his wife, Ivanka Trump, also a senior adviser to the president.

“In the case of the White House, they wanted both,” said Senator Kevin Cramer, a North Dakota Republican and key ally of Mr. Trump’s who sits on the Armed Services Committee and has been a vocal backer of Space Force. “At the end of the day, the president gets two victories.”

Mr. Trump appeared to regard the deal with a measure of amazement on Wednesday before the vote. “Wow! All of our priorities have made it into the final NDAA,” he wrote on Twitter, using an acronym for the National Defense Authorization Act.

It was also Mr. Kushner who intervened on measures targeting Saudi Arabia that would have prohibited arms sales or military assistance to the Saudi-led intervention in Yemen. He said they were nonstarters for the White House, according to the officials.

Representative Ro Khanna of California, who led a series of amendments seeking to curtail the president’s war powers on Iran and Saudi Arabia, called the omission of those measures from the final version “astonishing moral cowardice” in a joint statement with Senator Bernie Sanders, independent of Vermont.

“We can’t allow the Republicans to continue a policy of expanding military budgets and foreign intervention with a tactic of throwing us a bone every year on a progressive policy,” Mr. Khanna said in an interview.

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