House Democrats have delayed action on a sweeping defense policy bill following an eleventh-hour push from Black lawmakers for an accompanying vote to protect voting rights.
The House entered Wednesday expecting to pass the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) in the evening. Negotiators had reached a deal on the $847 billion defense bill Tuesday night, and it was expected to sail through the lower chamber with bipartisan support when it hit the floor 24 hours later.
Under that scenario, one rule would govern both the NDAA and a separate bill providing federal protections for same-sex marriage, which is scheduled to hit the floor on Thursday.
But the plan hit a wall when members of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC), led by Rep. Joyce Beatty (D-Ohio), demanded simultaneous action on a separate bill to enhance the 1965 Voting Rights Act.
The House last year had already passed the voting rights bill, named after the late Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), a civil rights icon. But the Senate never took it up, and CBC leaders were seeking a way to force a vote in the upper chamber, even knowing the measure likely to fail.
After hours of debate and delay Wednesday afternoon, Democratic leaders shifted course, scheduling a vote Wednesday night on a rule governing only the same-sex marriage bill, while delaying action on the NDAA while discussions with the CBC on voting rights continue.
The House is expected to pass the rule on the Senate-passed Respect for Marriage Act at roughly 8 p.m. Wednesday.