A partisan battle over LGBTQ rights tanked a routine energy and water appropriations bill Thursday in the U.S. House of Representatives.
The 305-112 vote reflected frustration on both sides of the aisle about how the federal government treats LGBTQ people while their rights are increasingly under attack by state-level Republicans, including a fresh lawsuit filed against the Obama administration over its recent guidance on transgender rights.
House lawmakers appeared to have reached a truce late Wednesday on an amendment to nullify language undoing President Obama’s LGBTQ anti-discrimination measures for federal contractors found in the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) (HR 4909).
Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (D-NY), co-chair of the Congressional LGBT Equality Caucus, attempted last week to counter the NDAA provision as an amendment to a House appropriations bill for fiscal year 2017 military construction and veterans affairs. Democrats led chants of “Shame! Shame! Shame!” after GOP leaders undermined passage of the amendment, holding open the vote and convincing seven Republicans to switch their “aye” votes to “noe.”
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Democrats at the time accused House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) and Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) of subverting regular order to appease anti-LGBTQ members of their party.
In a reversal, the House on Wednesday adopted Maloney’s amendment to the fiscal year 2017 energy and water appropriations bill (HR 5055) on a bipartisan 223-195 vote. Forty-three Republicans voted in favor of the amendment after Rep. Joe Pitts (R-PA) added language amounting to a religious exemption for federal contractors.
The amendment would have applied “except as required by the First Amendment, the Fourteenth Amendment, and Article I of the Constitution.”
Maloney initially hailed the vote on the amendment. “After House Republican Leadership broke their own rules to rig a vote and stack the deck for discrimination—tonight proved that equality will always win,” he said in a statement.
Despite the concession, a number of conservatives informed GOP leadership Thursday morning that they would not vote for the overall legislation, citing objections to the Maloney amendment, Politico reported. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), an increasingly vocal advocate for transgender rights, voted to pass the appropriations bill. Ros-Lehtinen’s son publicly came out as transgender this month.
Two anti-LGBTQ amendments that made it into the same energy and water appropriations bill did not appease conservatives. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) charged that the amendments constituted support for North Carolina’s discriminatory HB 2 law forcing transgender people to use the bathroom that aligns with the gender they were assigned at birth, rather than their gender identity. Pelosi said that the amendments would further encourage the nationwide spread of anti-LGBTQ bigotry.
Reps. Robert Pittenger (R-NC) and Bradley Byrne (R-AL) authored the amendments. Pittenger characterized his amendment as an attempt to “block President Obama’s bullying of North Carolina,” and Byrne, to “protect religious freedom.”
Maloney joined all but six Democrats in voting down the energy and water spending. House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer’s (D-MD) office told Rewire that the final vote was doomed from the start.
“Democrats already opposed this bill because of poison-pill riders; the anti-LGBT amendments only solidified that vote,” a Hoyer spokesperson said via email. “But let’s be clear, Republicans can’t blame their bill going down on us—it was their own members that took it down because it banned discrimination.”
Each party tried to foist the blame for the failed appropriations vote on the other.
Ryan during his weekly press conference lambasted Democrats for voting down the appropriations bill after they got the Maloney amendment. “What we learned today is that the Democrats were not looking to advance an issue but to sabotage the appropriations process,” he said.
In a statement to Rewire, a Pelosi spokesperson reiterated Hoyer’s assessment that the appropriations bill could not overcome “the Republicans’ insistence in inserting controversial riders.”