The GOP’s Civil War Over LGBT Rights Just Killed a Spending Bill

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US House Speaker Paul Ryan
Paul Ryan.Photo: NICHOLAS KAMM/This content is subject to copyright.

All Paul Ryan wanted was to appropriate some funds for energy and water spending: a quick and easy vote, bang the gavel, go home, and CrossFit hard enough to forget the Donald’s name.

But lately, routine spending bills in the House have had a funny habit of turning into acrimonious debates over LGBT rights. Last week, Democratic congressman Sean Patrick Maloney proposed an amendment to a Veterans Affairs appropriations bill barring federal contractors from discriminating against LGBT employees — thus enshrining President Obama’s 2014 executive order on that matter into law. The amendment appeared to pass — then a bunch of Republicans switched their votes. And then Democrats chanted “Shame, shame, shame,” and the Human Rights Campaign blasted the GOP flip-floppers over Twitter, and Speaker Ryan had another fire to put out.

Late Wednesday night, Maloney reintroduced the amendment, this time to an energy and water spending bill. Pennsylvania Republican Joe Pitts tried to split the baby, adding a line stipulating that the ban wouldn’t apply in circumstances where its enforcement would violate the Constitution. Since conservatives think the Constitution guarantees Christians the right to discriminate against gay people, while liberals think it demands the exact opposite, this was supposed to let both sides win. And for a while there, they seemed to: The amendment passed with 43 Republican votes.

And then, just before the full bill came up for a vote, Georgia congressman Rick Allen treated his colleagues to a prayer about “the gays.” Per Politico:

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The breakdown of the appropriations process started earlier in the day when Rep. Rick Allen (R-Ga.) opened the weekly GOP conference meeting with a prayer about the LGBT issue, prior to the vote. He read a passage from the Bible and questioned whether members would violate their religious principles if they supported the bill.

Moderate Republicans were stunned by Allen’s remarks, and some walked out of the meeting in protest, according to GOP lawmakers.

The appropriations bill fell 305–112, as a majority of Republicans voted it down in protest of the LGBT-rights provision. The vast majority of Democrats also turned on the bill after the GOP caucus filled it with poison pills. Among these was a provision barring the federal government from spending money to calculate the climate impact of regulations, one cutting off all funding to “sanctuary cities,” and an amendment prohibiting the federal government from withholding funds from North Carolina if it continues to violate the president’s federal order about transgender bathroom rights.

Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi was infuriated by the latter — or at least she pretended to be. “The success of the Maloney Amendment does not hide the reality that House Republicans have chosen to make enabling discrimination against LGBT Americans a top legislative priority,” Pelosi said in a statement.

But other House Democrats have indicated that they see such amendments — and the “reality” they expose — as political gifts.

Democrats are being given a huge opportunity to put Republicans on the record on issues that alienate most independent, moderate voters,” former Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee chairman and New York representative Steve Israel told the Washington Post. “Every time that Republicans give us the opportunity, we’re going to take it.”

According to the Post, Democrats are planning to weave these LGBT-rights skirmishes into a larger, Trump-themed narrative about the GOP as the party of intolerance. Paul Ryan is not eager to oblige that strategy:

The speaker this week cautioned GOP members at a closed-door session that Democrats were likely to keep trying to force them into uncomfortable votes on LGBT discrimination, according to aides and members who were present. He floated the idea of modifying House rules in a move that would likely restrict the number of amendments that could be offered on the floor, which would allow leaders to get out ahead of controversial votes and avoid any potentially embarrassing floor fights.

But for House Republicans from deep-red districts, such floor fights are less “embarrassing” than they are politically useful. For such members, any opportunity to rail against Obama’s tyrannical attempts to persecute Christians is an opportunity to boost fundraising and keep potential primary challengers from getting any ideas.

If they drive the bulldozer at us, we have to push back,” Republican Arizona representative Trent Franks told the Post.