U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s (D-Calif.) decision to pursue a bid as minority leader in the upcoming Congress is being met with unanimous support among the openly gay members of Congress as some LGBT advocates expressed regret that more pro-gay legislation didn’t pass during her tenure as presiding officer.
After Pelosi announced her decision to run for House minority leader last week, openly gay members of Congress declared their support for her decision and praised her work representing San Francisco in Congress for 23 years and her work in the last four years as speaker.
Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), the only out lesbian in Congress, said in a statement to the Blade that she’s among those endorsing Pelosi in her decision to become Democratic leader in the next Congress.
“I remain loyal to Nancy Pelosi,” Baldwin said. “In the last two years, she accomplished things that we’ve been trying to do for decades. Without her unique leadership passing health care reform, [the stimulus package], higher education reform, Wall Street reform, the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Act, and the House-passed Energy and Climate Change bill would never have happened.”
In an interview with the Washington Blade on Monday, Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), the longest-serving openly gay member of Congress, also said he backs Pelosi’s decision to stay on as Democratic leader. He’s often spoken highly of her commitment to LGBT issues.
“I’m supporting her; I think she’ll win,” Frank told the Blade.
Also among those expressing support for Pelosi’s continued leadership is Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.), a gay lawmaker who last week issued a statement praising Pelosi’s decision and her support for the LGBT community.
“I strongly support the speaker and her decision to run for Democratic leader,” Polis said. “She has been a longstanding and ardent supporter of the LGBT community and I will do anything to help continue her leadership. The speaker has led the Democrats out of the wilderness before and I am confident she can do it again.”
David Cicilline, the Rhode Island politician who last week was elected to become the fourth openly gay member of Congress, also endorses Pelosi’s move. Richard Luchette, a spokesperson for Cicilline, said the congressman-elect “will be supporting Nancy Pelosi for minority leader.”
During the course of her tenure as speaker since 2007, Pelosi has pushed through a number of pro-LGBT bills through the U.S. House. The chamber passed hate crimes protections legislation in 2007 and again in 2009.
Pelosi also mustered enough votes in 2007 to pass through the House a version of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act that later died. This year, a measure that would lead to “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal passed the House by a 40-vote majority.
The health care reform legislation that Pelosi dragged to the finish line earlier this year increases access to Medicaid for people with HIV and improves Medicare Part D by closing the “donut-hole” for people participating in AIDS Drug Assistance Programs. Additionally, the law prohibits insurance companies from discriminating based on pre-existing conditions, such as HIV status.
But despite Pelosi’s success in the House with pro-LGBT legislation, only hate crimes legislation also successfully passed through the Senate during her time as speaker. Additionally, Pelosi has endured criticism for not moving forward with a trans-inclusive ENDA during the 111th Congress.
Drew Hammill, who’s gay and a Pelosi spokesperson, said the California lawmaker has been “a staunch advocate” for LGBT people during her more than 20 year in Congress. Among the positions she’s taken that he cited are leading the fight against HIV/AIDS, opposing a U.S. constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage and speaking out against Proposition 8 in California.
“Nancy Pelosi will continue to be a friend, advocate and staunch ally to the community and the leading voice in the Congress for LGBT equality,” Hammill said.
House Democrats will vote at the start of the lame duck session next week on who will become minority leader in the 112th Congress as well as which members will assume other positions in Democratic leadership. As of Blade deadline, no other House member has challenged Pelosi in her bid to become Democratic leader.
The more contentious battle will likely be over who will take the No. 2 position in the Democratic caucus. Both current House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) and House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.) are vying to become House minority whip. Hoyer is expected to have the backing of more moderate members of Congress, while Clyburn will likely have support from progressives as well as the Congressional Black Caucus and the Congressional Hispanic Caucus.
Although Pelosi thus far is running unopposed as minority leader, the speaker’s decision to continue to lead the House Democratic caucus has irked some conservative Blue Dogs who distanced themselves from the speaker during the campaign and barely survived the Republican onslaught on Election Day.
Among the U.S. House members who’ve publicly said they wouldn’t vote for Pelosi as minority leader are Reps. Larry Kissell (D-N.C.), Jim Matheson (D-Utah), Health Shuler (D-N.C.) and Dan Boren (D-Okla.).
Eager to tie Democrats to Pelosi again in the 2012 election, the Republican National Committee last week draped a red banner across the front of its headquarters reading, “Hire Pelosi.” Prior to Election Day, as Republican candidates hammered House Democrats belonging to the caucus that voted Pelosi into power, a similar banner hung on the face of the building reading, “Fire Pelosi.”
One Democratic lobbyist, who spoke to the Blade on the condition of anonymity, expressed disappointment with Pelosi’s decision to stay on as minority leader and said the move doesn’t bode well for Democrats.
The lobbyist noted that fewer Democrats will be in the House next year than the number that were present in the minority prior to Pelosi’s ascension to speaker in 2006.
“Her polarizing history as leader will severely hamper Democratic recruitment efforts in the districts we just lost; couple that with what will almost certainly be additional Democratic losses after redistricting next year and it makes Democrats’ road to reclaiming the House — and her speakership — nearly impossible in the foreseeable future,” the lobbyist said.
Among LGBT rights supporters, Pelosi’s decision to continue as Democratic leader in the 112th Congress is inspiring mixed reactions. Some commend her for pushing through pro-gay bills while others said she could have done more.
Fred Sainz, the Human Rights Campaign’s vice president of communications, said the decision on whether Pelosi would be able to stay on as minority leader is up to the Democratic caucus and “not any one group.” Still, he praised the Democratic lawmaker for her support for the LGBT community.
“Speaker Pelosi has been a consistent ally and advocate not just for LGBT people but for all fair-minded Americans throughout her congressional career,” Sainz said. “She has vigorously supported full and equal rights for LGBT people long before it was politically acceptable to do so.”
But John Aravosis, the gay editor of AMERICAblog, said Pelosi is responsible in part for the lack of progress on pro-LGBT legislation during the first two years of President Obama’s administration. Still, while he said he’s not completely satisfied with Pelosi, Aravosis said other LGBT advocates in power deserve worse job evaluations.
“All of our leaders let us down: HRC, Barack Obama, Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi,” Aravosis said. “Having said that, Nancy Pelosi strikes me as the least culpable of the four. I’m not happy that she wasn’t able to even get ENDA through committee, but I’m a lot less happy at the moment with HRC, President Obama and Harry Reid. Pelosi at least came through for us part-way, the others have been MIA the last two years.”
GetEQUAL, the LGBT organization responsible for civil disobedience acts across the country, is calling on Pelosi to make public a plan for moving forward with LGBT legislation to win the group’s endorsement in her bid to become minority leader. The organization has protested the speaker both on Capitol Hill and in her home district of San Francisco for not moving forward with ENDA in the 111th Congress.
Heather Cronk, managing director for GetEQUAL, maintained her organization is “interested in full equality for all LGBT Americans” and “happy to endorse” any member of Congress that can “commit to carrying the mantle of full federal LGBT equality.”
“While GetEQUAL has protested Rep. Pelosi throughout 2010 to hold her accountable to her promises to the LGBT community, we’d be happy to endorse her if we see a concrete and realistic plan for moving pro-equality legislation through the House,” Cronk said. “We would also be happy to endorse any other representative who can offer such a plan. We’re seeking bold action for equality — and we’re far more interested in that end than in the political horse race that started the day after Election Day.”