U.S. Rep. Mary Peltola, D-Alaska, speaks at the Alaska Democratic Party’s state convention on May 18 at Elizabeth Peratrovich Hall. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire file photo)

U.S. Rep. Mary Peltola, D-Alaska, speaks at the Alaska Democratic Party’s state convention on May 18 at Elizabeth Peratrovich Hall. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire file photo)

Peltola among few Democrats to vote for annual defense bill loaded with GOP ‘culture war’ amendments

Alaska congresswoman expresses confidence “poison pills” will be removed from final legislation.

This story has been updated with additional information.

U.S. Rep. Mary Peltola, D-Alaska, was among only six of the 213 Democrats in the U.S. House to vote in favor of the $883.7 billion National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) on Friday after House Republicans who control the chamber filled it with various “culture war” provisions including banning drag shows on military bases, and restricting access to abortion and transgender medical care.

The 217-199 vote largely along party lines on the bill — which also eliminates all positions and offices of diversity, equity and inclusion at the Pentagon — turned a normally bipartisan bill into a blatantly political one ahead of the 2024 elections. Three Republicans voted against the bill.

The Democratic-led Senate is likely to pass a substantially different bill, with the proposed text from the Senate Armed Services Committee not expected to be released until July, with leaders from the two chambers then working on a compromise version after the November election.

Peltola, who is seeking her second full term after becoming the first Democrat in 50 years elected to Alaska’s lone Congressional seat, said in a prepared statement Friday her vote for the bill was due to its substantive provisions — including measures she sponsored — and the belief “poison pills” won’t be in the final bill. Peltola has stated she is pro-choice and opposes policies such as transgender restrictions added to the NDAA.

“I’ve been working in DC for a while now, and I’ve learned a lot about the backward ways many things here function,” her statement notes. “While I acknowledge this bill was not perfect, it’s merely the first step in a longer process. I fully expect poison pills that would hurt our communities will be removed from the final bill, and I’m committed to working with our senators to ensure the final version is good for Alaskans.”

Among the NDAA’s major provisions are a 19.5% pay raise for junior enlisted servicemembers and 4.5% raise for all other service members, higher housing and food allowances for military families, and improvements for military housing facilities. Peltola, in her statement, notes it also reevaluates cost-of-living allowances calculations “so they include the appropriate costs of location specific items such as food or warm clothing — important for Alaskan servicemembers especially.”

Provisions sponsored by Peltola include one co-authored with Rep. John Garamendi, D-California, adding the Commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard to the Joint Chiefs of Staff; and portions of the so-called PORT Act intended to streamline permitting and other regulations related to building and modernizing port facilities. She noted the House bill also contains an amendment preventing the relocation and reassignment of members of the Alaska National Guard without consent of the governor.

Peltola is facing two major Republican challengers this fall: Nick Begich III, who lost to Peltola in a three-way race in 2022; and Lt. Gov. Nancy Dahlstrom.

In a June 6 interview with the Alaska Watchman, Begich said he opposes the use of military funds to transport soldiers to obtain an abortion and supports former President Donald Trump’s ban on individuals identifying as transgender from serving in the military.

“Under Joe Biden, the military has strayed from its primary objective of protecting the people of our nation and is instead emphasizing Diversity Equity Inclusion and Environmental Social Governance policies,” Begich told the Alaska Watchman.

Dahlstrom, in a statement issued through a spokesperson Saturday, stated “the NDAA is critical legislation that ensures our military can complete its mission of protecting Americans. I am happy to see House Republicans taking action to give our troops a well-deserved pay raise while getting rid of the DEI programs adversely impacting our military readiness.”

• Contact Mark Sabbatini at mark.sabbatini@juneauempire.com or (907) 957-2306.

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