Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio), who is expected to become Speaker of the House in January, agreed to a request by the gay GOP group Log Cabin Republicans not to penalize House Republicans who voted in May for repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” according to the group’s leader.
Log Cabin Executive Director R. Clarke Cooper said Boehner agreed to his request that the House minority leader not order a Republican whip count for an amendment to a defense authorization bill calling for repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” Whip counts are sometimes viewed as a means of pressuring members to vote the way party leaders want them to vote, and House GOP leaders, including Boehner, opposed the repeal amendment.
In what he called a conciliatory gesture, Cooper said Boehner agreed to his request to “no whip” the amendment during a conversation at a political event days before the House voted 234 to 194 on May 27 to approve it. Only five Republicans voted for the amendment, which was introduced by Rep. Patrick Murphy (D-Pa.).
“He did not do a whip count,” Cooper said. “And in the grand scheme of things it’s not the biggest deal on the planet. But I saw it as a positive indicator that he didn’t blow me off.”
The repeal measure died in a Senate filibuster. Senate Democratic leaders have promised to bring it up again later this month in a congressional “lame duck” session, but its prospects for passing are uncertain.
Meanwhile, with Republicans winning control of the House in Tuesday’s midterm elections, LGBT activists and Capitol Hill pundits will likely weigh Cooper’s interaction with Boehner as part of their assessment of whether gay Republicans will have access to and influence with House GOP leaders over pending LGBT legislation.
Although Democrats retained their control of the Senate, most political observers — including LGBT advocates — agree that major LGBT-related bills would have no chance of passing in Congress next year without the consent of Republican leaders like Boehner. And most observers believe House Republicans won’t allow gay bills to come to the House floor for a vote.
Cooper, however, said he and his Log Cabin team have a plan for persuading congressional Republican leaders to consider and agree to a vote on at least two gay bills. According to Cooper, one is an as yet to be unveiled tax reform bill that would address “tax inequities that affect the gay community.” The other is the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, or ENDA, which Democratic leaders declined to bring up for a vote during the past two years. The measure calls for banning employment discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
Cooper said the tax bill would appeal to “the broader conservative community” while addressing inequities in the gay community.
“We would be attracting new or additional allies that we’ve not had in the past,” he said. “There are several members of Congress right now who don’t have a record, good or bad, or who are unknown to our community. And this gives them an opportunity to put a toe in the water on doing pro-equality measures.”
Cooper said the tax bill, the details of which would be released at the start of the new Congress in January, would help pave the way for more Republican support for ENDA.
Other LGBT organizations issued statements Tuesday night saying the Republican takeover of the House and the increased number of Republicans elected to the Senate would essentially eliminate any chance of passing LGBT bills for at least two years.
National Stonewall Democrats, the Human Rights Campaign and the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force each released statements describing the new crop of Republican leaders as “anti-equality.”
HRC noted that Boehner; Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.), the expected new House majority leader; and Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.), the expected majority whip, each received an HRC scorecard rating of “0” on LGBT issues over the past two years.
D.C. Council member David Catania (I-At-Large), who won election to another term on Tuesday, said his opinion of the Republican Party as an impediment to LGBT equality hasn’t changed since he left the party in 2004 over its support for a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage.
“If the question is what impact gay Republicans will have in a Republican-controlled Congress, the answer is none,” Catania said. “And if the last 10 years has demonstrated anything it’s that the Republican Party has no interest in a big tent, no interest in having gay Republicans at the table.”
“And the fact that gay Republicans continue to live in a fantasy land as if they mattered to the establishment in the GOP is mind blowing,” he said.
A spokesperson for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), who will be replaced as speaker by Boehner in January, gave an equally harsh assessment of the influence of gay Republicans under the new Congress.
“They have got to be drinking some serious Kool-Aid over at Log Cabin Republicans’ headquarters,” said Pelosi spokesperson Drew Hammill. “To think that a Republican majority would do anything to advance equality for the LGBT community is simply delusional.”
Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, which has been among the lead groups lobbying for ENDA, said she hopes Log Cabin does have access and influence over congressional GOP leaders.
But she noted that some of Log Cabin’s effort could be undercut by what appears to be a rival gay Republican group, GOProud.
Founded by conservative gay GOP activist Christopher Barron, who broke away from Log Cabin two years ago, GOProud received criticism from LGBT activists this fall for producing a campaign ad calling for the defeat of gay Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.). The ad accused Frank of being responsible for “the financial meltdown that devastated our economy” in his role as chair of the House committee that approved government bailouts for banks.
Other activists note that Log Cabin had its own financial meltdown in 2008, when money problems resulted in the layoff of its entire Washington staff. The group’s board and state and local chapters remained active and kept the group going until funds were raised to hire a new executive director and a small Washington staff.
Cooper and other Log Cabin supporters strongly dispute claims that congressional GOP leaders will ignore the group. They note that unlike the last GOP takeover of Congress, virtually none of the current crop of Republican candidates ran on an anti-gay or anti-same-sex marriage platform. Economic issues and the Tea Party-led revolt this year against “big government” overshadowed social issues like gay marriage, Cooper and other Log Cabin members said.
Richard Tafel, who served as Log Cabin’s executive director in the 1990s, told the Blade Tuesday that he believes the new GOP-controlled House will be far more receptive to LGBT equality issues than the GOP Congress he contended with nearly a decade ago.
“I think the Republicans have learned a very harsh lesson from the ‘90s, when I was there, which is gay bashing didn’t work. It was fundamentally a flaw … the Tea Party is all about fiscal responsibility,” he said, adding that the new GOP leadership will likely follow that path rather than expend resources opposing gay equality issues.
Gay Republican activist Jim Driscoll, who served on the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS during the Bush administration, said Log Cabin’s influence “will be heavily dependent” on its willingness to support Republicans on non-LGBT issues like the economy and GOP positions on AIDS programs.
“Regardless of how Log Cabin fares, I believe that most Republican offices will be more receptive to openly gay Republicans than any time before,” Driscoll said. “Republicans will realize that this election was not won on social issues or gay baiting. In fact, nearly all Republican strategists and consultants advised their candidates to keep quiet or tone down on this one.”