The House is headed for another showdown over LGBT rights this week as Democrats plan to revive a measure to bar the government from paying contractors that discriminate based on gender identity or sexual orientation.
The measure, sponsored by Rep. Sean Maloney (D-N.Y.), failed last week despite originally appearing to have enough votes to pass. Democrats accused House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) of forcing seven GOP members to switch their votes to kill the language.
Now Maloney, who is openly gay, plans to try again. Maloney said Tuesday that he would try and attach his proposal to the energy and water spending bill scheduled to be debated in the House this week — that measure is scheduled for a final vote on Thursday.
“There is a majority [in] the House of Representatives right now to oppose discrimination in the workplace,” Maloney said in an interview. “Really, the only way discrimination is going to win is if Kevin McCarthy keeps rigging the votes.”
LGBT rights have sparked an intense political debate around the country and last week, exploded onto the House floor when Maloney tried to include his language about federal contractors in a military construction and veterans affairs bill. The episode signaled the start of what is likely to be a long and controversial battle over so-called religious liberty and other LGBT measures in the context of the congressional budget process.
Because the 12 spending bills are among the only must-pass legislation on Congress’s plate, supporters and defenders of such measures are likely to use them as vehicles for such proposals.
Congressional Republican leaders acknowledged Tuesday that LGBT concerns could hamstring the budget process, and that they were engaged in a discussion with their members.
“Leaders have spoken to members about the best way to proceed in a way that will keep the appropriations on track,” said a GOP aide on Tuesday.
But that won’t stop Democrats from slamming Republicans on the issue.
House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) spoke out on Tuesday about Maloney’s original attempt to attach his anti-discrimination language to last week’s spending bill. He said GOP leaders pushed members to oppose the measure after conservatives threatened to tank the overall bill if it contained the language.
“I’m sure there will be opportunities and there will be additional amendments offered so that we have a country that is dealing with people equally, fairly and justly,” Hoyer said.
Hoyer said that scuffle last week proves that the anti-discrimination measure has enough support to pass as long as Republican leaders allow members to vote their conscience.
As part of their pledge to maintain regular order, McCarthy and House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wisc.) have said they are committed to maintaining an open amendment process, allowing any member to introduce language once a bill hits the House floor.
But Rep. Charlie Dent (R-Pa.) — who sponsored last week’s energy and veterans spending bill — and many House Democrats said what transpired was not consistent with that spirit.
“On the one hand, many of our members want regular order and an open process [but] when they get it several threaten to vote against the underlying bill,” Dent said in an interview. “You can’t have it both ways.”
Last week, the Maloney measure looked poised to pass, 217 to 206, before leaders seemed to begin a last-minute scramble to rally Republicans against it.
The language ultimately failed, 213 to 212. Democrats said seven GOP members who originally supported it — Reps. Darrell Issa, Jeff Denham, Mimi Walters and David Valadao of California; Greg Walden (Ore.), David Young (Iowa), and Bruce Poliquin (Maine) — wound up in the “no” column.
Several spokesman for those Republicans did not comment on whether they switched their votes. In a statement, Poliquin said he was “outraged that political opponents or members of the press would claim or insinuate that I cast a vote due to pressure or party politics.”
Democrats booed and shouted as the amendment failed, and party leaders unleashed a wave of criticism. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) accused Republicans of backing discrimination and manipulating House rules to suit the moral convictions of a small group of conservatives.
“Last week, after pushing their agenda of discrimination into the defense bill, GOP leaders went to extreme lengths – abusing the regular order of the House and forcing their Members to change their votes — to defeat the Maloney amendment to protect LGBT Americans,” Pelosi said in a statement Tuesday.
In the end, 29 Republicans still backed the Maloney measure, including Dent.
“I have a consistent position that I strongly oppose discrimination of the LGBT community,” Dent said in an interview. “It’s unfortunate that the annual appropriations bills have become the battle ground of messaging on both sides.”