By Lisa Keen
While the nation rivets its attention to the increasingly bizarre presidential campaign or eagerly counts down the calendar to when the livin’ is easy, Congress has returned to a business as usual battle over LGBT issues brought up inside funding measures. The scenes have been reminiscent, and at times even more dramatic, than those seen in the 1980s when Sen. Jesse Helms regularly introduced “no promo homo” amendments and called an openly gay Clinton nominee a “damn lesbian.”
Last Thursday, U.S. Rep. Rick Allen, R-Ga., led off a regular meeting of House Republicans by reading Roman 1:18-32 from the Bible, including the passage, “Men committed shameful acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their error.” The section ends with a passage that states those who commit such acts “are worthy of death.”
Although the Thursday morning meeting was closed to the press, the Atlanta Journal Constitution and others reported that some people in the meeting were “intensely uncomfortable and some walked out.” Some told other media sources that Allen did not reference a pro-LGBT amendment offered by openly gay U.S. Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, D-NY, and passed Wednesday evening.
That afternoon, the Republican-dominated House voted down the overall funding bill to which Maloney’s amendment had passed, and many media reports attributed the defeat of the overall bill to Republican hostility to Maloney’s amendment.
Maloney’s amendment sought to protect President Obama’s executive order prohibiting discrimination by federal contractors against LGBT employees.
But the approval of Maloney’s amendment on May 25 came just days after Republican leaders orchestrated its defeat through manipulation of the clock on voting for another funding measure — a Defense bill which included language to nullify President Obama’s executive order.
Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., leader of House Democrats, blasted Republicans for “targeting LGBT Americans” in the National Defense Authorization Act. The language for that nullification came from Rep. Steve Russell, R-Okla., and Republican leadership fought vigorously to preserve it in the overall bill, even to the point of ignoring the clock on a vote for Maloney’s amendment to kill the language.
Initially, 35 Republicans voted for Maloney’s amendment. Along with the support of 182 Democrats, the amendment had 217 votes for and 202 against. There were 13 seconds remaining left on the clock for lawmakers to weigh in on the measure.
“After it was clear that the amendment was passing,” said House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Md., in a press release, “House Republican leaders held the two-minute vote open for nearly eight minutes while they urged their members to change their votes and defeat the amendment.”
As the clock reached four seconds remaining, one of the Republican votes “Yea” dropped off and the “Nays” increased to 205. At zero “Time Remaining” to vote, another Republican voted “Yea,” putting the winning tally back to 217. Two minutes after the clock had run out, the Republican presiding over the vote still had not declared the final vote and suddenly two more Republican “Yea” votes appeared while two dropped from the “Nay” column.
At this point, voices on the floor began booing. According to Hoyer’s account, these were Democrats booing the Republican chair’s failure to call the vote. Within another two minutes, more voices joined in a chant of “Shame, Shame, Shame” as the number of Republican “Yea” votes dropped to 30 and the vote on the amendment stood at 213 to 212. Moments later, the vote dropped to 212 “Yea” and 213 “Nay,” and the presiding officer banged his gavel and announced the amendment had failed.
Hoyer immediately complained to the presiding officer that the vote count changed even though no Republican went to the front of the House floor to change his or her vote.
“House Republican leaders held the two-minute vote open for nearly eight minutes while they urged their members to change their votes and defeat the amendment,” said a clearly angered Hoyer.
The seven Republicans who switched their votes were Reps. Jeff Denham, Darrell Issa, David Valadao, and Mimi Walters of California; David Young of Iowa; Bruce Poliquin of Maine; and Greg Walden of Oregon.
On May 25, Maloney was back on the floor, this time thanking House Speaker Paul Ryan for allowing “an open process so that I can offer my amendment again.” This time, the amendment passed 223 to 195.
The next day, the overall bill was defeated and most reports pointed to Maloney’s amendment as the reason why.
Human Rights Campaign government affairs director David Stacy said, “A large majority of House Republicans voted against it because Heritage Action and other right-wing groups opposed both its funding levels and the inclusion of the Maloney Amendment.”
Hoyer criticized Republicans too, saying their vote to defeat the Energy and Water represented “clear opposition to equality and civil rights in America.”
“Their votes to defeat the annual funding bill … simply because it contained an amendment banning discrimination against LGBT Americans were both shameful and outrageous.”
“House Republicans’ thirst to discriminate against the LGBT community is so strong that they are willing to vote down their own appropriations bill in order to prevent progress over bigotry,” said Pelosi, in a statement released after the Energy & Water bill was defeated. “In turning against a far-reaching funding bill simply because it affirms protections for LGBT Americans, Republicans have once again lain bare the depths of their bigotry.”
Log Cabin Republicans expressed support for Republican defeat of the Energy & Water bill, saying, “The truth is that, when given the choice between supporting the LGBT community and supporting runaway spending, nearly the entire House Democratic caucus showed their true colors and voted in support of runaway spending by voting down” the overall bill.
Of the 188 Democrats in the House, 175 voted against the overall bill May 26, six voted for it, and seven did not vote. Of the 245 Republicans, 130 voted against, 106 voted for, and nine did not vote. The final vote: 305 against, 112 for, 16 not voting.
Among the “Nay” votes on the overall bill were Maloney, and openly gay Reps. David Cicilline, Jared Polis, Mark Pocan, Kyrsten Sinema, and Mark Takano.
HRC’s Stacy said Democrats voted against the overall bill because of “anti-environmental and other objectionable provisions.”
President Obama and Democrats said they were opposed to the overall bill for a number of disputes, including “insufficient” funding levels for clean energy.
The showdowns on the first two of 12 appropriations bills to be considered so far signals an increasingly worrisome appropriations process for LGBT concerns. The House returns from its Memorial Day Weekend recess and “district work period” on June 7.
Stacy said there is a possibility of more hostile amendments in the future.
“There’s still a sobering level of hostility and rhetoric that is harmful,” said Stacy. The group is keeping watch on the Defense authorization bill in the Senate and will be monitoring other funding bills coming to the floor in the House. But Stacy said the House leadership has a “real desire not to bring up social issues” on the funding bills and many political observers believe Congress will avoid tackling most funding measures until after the presidential election.
Stacy said the LGBT community is also “a little better positioned” now than in the 1980s, when Sen. Helms wreaked havoc with anti-LGBT measures to spending bills. He said HRC can now count on “every Democrat” and 30 to 35 Republicans in the House who are willing to vote in support of rights for LGBT people with “increasing frequency.”