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Levin uncertain about ‘Don’t Ask’ vote count

Senate prepares for critical Tuesday vote

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Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee. (Blade photo by Michael Key)

The chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee on Monday expressed uncertainty over whether the Senate would have sufficient votes to move forward with major defense budget legislation containing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal.

During a news conference, Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) said he doesn’t know whether there are 60 votes to end a filibuster and move forward with the fiscal year 2011 defense authorization bill.

The vote for cloture on the legislation, which has language that would lead to the end of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” is set for Tuesday at 2:15 p.m.

“I hope we can get to cloture,” Levin said. “I know a number of you will ask the question, ‘Do we have the votes?’ My answer is, ‘I don’t know whether we have the votes or not.’ I haven’t done a whip check.”

Levin said he hopes the votes are present to move forward with the defense authorization bill because of “critically important” provisions in the legislation related to military pay and weapons systems.

Provided all 59 Democrats in the Senate vote in favor of cloture, at least one Republican vote is needed to move forward with the defense authorization bill, but GOP leadership is reportedly withholding support for the bill because of a limit imposed on the number of amendments that can be offered on the floor.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has said three amendments would be allowed for consideration of the defense authorization bill: an amendment to strip out the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal language; a measure to attach the DREAM Act, an immigration-related bill, to the legislation; and a measure addressing the “secret holds” senators can place on presidential nominees.

Sources have told the Blade that moderate Republicans, including Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), are seeking concessions from Democratic leadership in exchange for breaking with the Republican caucus and voting for cloture.

Levin said he’s unaware of any concessions that Collins or other Republicans are seeking over the defense authorization bill. Still, he said he’s spoken with the Maine senator about a previous version of the unanimous consent agreement.

“She and I talked about the consent agreement,” Levin said. “She had some difficulty with it. It wasn’t that she would vote for it if it were changed. That’s not what we talked about. It was she had some difficulty with an earlier draft, and, frankly, I thought she was right.”

Levin said he didn’t ask Collins during this conversation about how the Maine senator intended to vote on the cloture measure on Tuesday.

Asked by the Blade what would happen if cloture isn’t invoked on Tuesday, Levin said an unsuccessful vote would be a “real setback” and said he couldn’t predict what would happen if the bill came up again after Election Day.

“Anyone who tries to predict what will happen in lame duck has got a lot more courage than I do,” Levin said.

A failure to pass the defense authorization bill would almost be unprecedented. A Democratic aide said during the news conference that Congress has passed defense authorization legislation every year for the past 48 years.

If cloture is invoked on Tuesday, opponents of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal would have the opportunity to strip out the repeal language through an amendment on the Senate floor.

Levin said he doesn’t know what opponents of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal are planning when the Senate proceeds tomorrow with the legislation.

“I don’t know what we’re going to see on ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,'” Levin said. “It’s going to be up to people — if we can get to cloture — who will offer the amendment.”

A Democratic aide said the votes needed to strip the repeal language from the legislation would be either 51 or 60, depending on the agreement reached between majority and minority leadership.

But the main focus of Levin’s news conference was to address arguments from McCain, who has objected to advancing the defense authorization bill on the basis that non-germane amendments are planned for the legislation.

“For many, many years, we never put any extraneous items on the [defense authorization] bill, because it was so important to defense and we just didn’t allow it,” McCain said, according to a Levin statement. “Starting last year, Carl Levin and Harry Reid put hate crimes on it.”

McCain on the floor last week lamented that hate crimes protections legislation was signed into law last year as an amendment to FY 2010 Defense Authorization Act.

During today’s news conference, Levin noted that hate crimes legislation had been attached to defense authorization legislation three additional times prior to 2009, although the measure never made it to the president’s desk before last year.

“Sen. McCain is incorrect on at least two accounts in the one statement,” Levin said. “Last year was not the first time that hate crimes legislation was added to the defense authorization bill … and it was approved by an overwhelming bi-partisan majority each of those three previous times.”

Levin also said other non-germane amendments had been considered as part of the defense authorization bill, including measures on concealed weapons, indecency standards as well as a previous amendment on “secret holds.”

An amendment for campaign finance reform that McCain sponsored in 2000 was also considered as part of the defense authorization bill, according to Levin.

“If we want to give these men and women in the military confidence in their government, we should have fully disclosed who it is that contributes to the political campaigns,” McCain said in 2000, according to a Levin statement.

Levin said he defended McCain’s right to offer this amendment in 2000 as he plans to defend the right of anyone who introduces the DREAM Act this year.

“People have a right to use the rules here and to suggest anything to the contrary is just simply inaccurate and I think has no place in the debate,” Levin said.

McCain’s office didn’t immediately respond to the Blade’s request for comment on Levin’s remarks.

Also during the presser, Levin disputed an account that the DREAM Act would be attached to the defense authorization bill as part of a manager’s amendment that would be inclusive of defense-related items.

A Republican source had earlier told the Blade that Democratic leadership was planning consideration of the DREAM Act and a manager’s amendment as one measure.

“That’s news to me,” Levin said. “I would love to know where you heard it. I’d like to check your source.”

Still, Levin said he expects the DREAM Act to be the first amendment offered to the defense authorization bill on Tuesday following a successful cloture vote.

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State Department

State Department hosts intersex activists from around the world

Group met with policy makers, health officials, NGOs

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The State Department last week hosted a group of intersex activists from around the world. (Courtesy photo)

The State Department last week hosted five intersex activists from around the world.

Kimberly Zieselman, a prominent intersex activist who advises Jessica Stern, the special U.S. envoy for the promotion of LGBTQ and intersex rights abroad, brought the activists to D.C.

• Morgan Carpenter, co-founder and executive director of Intersex Human Rights Australia

• Natasha Jiménez, an intersex activist from Costa Rica who is the general coordinator of Mulabi, the Latin American Space for Sexualities and Rights

• Julius Kaggwa, founder of the Support Initiative for People with Atypical Sex Development Uganda

• Magda Rakita, co-founder and executive director of Fujdacja Interakcja in Poland and co-founder of Interconnected UK

• Esan Regmi, co-founder and executive director of the Campaign for Change in Nepal.

Special U.S. Envoy for Global Youth Issues Abby Finkenauer and Assistant Health Secretary Rachel Levine are among the officials with whom the activists met.

Zieselman told the Washington Blade on Sept. 21 the activists offered State Department officials an “intersex 101” overview during a virtual briefing.

More than 60 Save the Children staffers from around the world participated in another virtual briefing. Zieselman noted the activists also met with Stern, U.N. and Organization of American States officials, funders and NGO representatives while in D.C.

“The people we met were genuinely interested,” Rakita told the Blade.

Stern in an exclusive statement to the Blade said “the visiting intersex activists clearly had an impact here at State, sharing their expertise and lived experience highlighting the urgency to end human rights abuses, including those involving harmful medical practices against intersex persons globally.” Andrew Gleason, senior director for gender equality and social justice at Save the Children US, in a LinkedIn post he wrote after attending his organization’s meeting with the activists echoed Stern.

“There are many learnings to recount from today’s discussion, but one thing is clear, this is unequivocally a child rights issue, and one that demands attention and action at the intersection of LGBTQI+ rights, reproductive rights and justice, disability justice and more,” wrote Gleason. “Gratitude to the panelists for sharing such poignant testimonies and providing insights into what organizations like ours can do to contribute to the broader intersex movement; and thank you to Kimberly for your leadership and bringing this group together.”

The activists’ trip to D.C. coincided with efforts to end so-called sex “normalization” surgeries on intersex children.

Greek lawmakers in July passed a law that bans such procedures on children under 15 unless they offer their consent or a court allows them to happen. Doctors who violate the statute face fines and prison.

Germany Iceland, Malta, Portugal and Spain have also enacted laws that seek to protect intersex youth. 

A law that grants equal rights and legal recognition to intersex people in Kenya took effect in July 2022. Lawmakers in the Australian Capital Territory earlier this year passed the Variation in Sex Characteristics (Restricted Medical Treatment) Bill 2023.

Intersex Human Rights Australia notes the law implements “mechanisms to regulate non-urgent medical care to encourage child participation in medical decisions, establish groundbreaking oversight mechanisms and provide transparency on medical practices and decision making.” It further points out the statute “will criminalize some deferrable procedures that permanently alter the sex characteristics of children” and provides “funding for necessary psychosocial supports for families and children.”

“It’s amazing,” Carpenter told the Blade when discussing the law and resistance to it. “It’s not perfect. There was some big gaps, but physicians are resisting every step of the way.”

The State Department in April 2022 began to issue passports with an “X” gender marker.

Dana Zzyym, an intersex U.S. Navy veteran who identifies as non-binary, in 2015 filed a federal lawsuit against the State Department after it denied their application for a passport with an “X” gender marker. Zzyym in October 2021 received the first gender-neutral American passport.

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Federal Government

Federal government prepares for looming shutdown

White House warns of ‘damaging impacts across the country’

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U.S. Capitol Building (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

However remote they were on Monday, odds of avoiding a government shutdown were narrowed by Thursday evening as House Republicans continued debate over their hyper-partisan appropriations bills that stand no chance of passage by the Upper Chamber.

As lawmakers in the Democratic controlled Senate forged ahead with a bipartisan stop-gap spending measure that House GOP leadership had vowed to reject, the federal government began bracing for operations to grind to a halt on October 1.

This would mean hundreds of thousands of workers are furloughed as more than 100 agencies from the State Department to the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation roll out contingency plans maintained by the White House Office of Management and Budget. On Thursday the Office of Personnel Management sent out memos to all agencies instructing them to ready for a shutdown on Sunday.

Before 1980, operations would continue per usual in cases where Congress failed to break an impasse over spending, as lapses in funding tended to last only a few days before lawmakers brokered a deal.

Since then, the government has shut down more than a dozen times and the duration has tended to become longer and longer.

“Across the United States, local news outlets are reporting on the harmful impacts a potential government shutdown would have on American families,” the White House wrote in a release on Thursday featuring a roundup of reporting on how the public might be affected.

“With just days left before the end of the fiscal year, extreme House Republicans are playing partisan games with peoples’ lives and marching our country toward a government shutdown that would have damaging impacts across the country,” the White House said.

The nature and extent of that damage will depend on factors including how long the impasse lasts, but the Biden-Harris administration has warned of some consequences the American public is likely to face.

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, for example, warned: “There is no good time for a government shutdown, but this is a particularly bad time for a government shutdown, especially when it comes to transportation.”

Amid the shortage of air traffic controllers and efforts to modernize aviation technology to mitigate flight delays and cancellations, a government shutdown threatens to “make air travel even worse,” as Business Insider wrote in a headline Thursday.

Democratic lawmakers including California Congresswoman Barbara Lee and Maxine Waters, meanwhile, have sounded the alarm in recent weeks over the consequences for the global fight against AIDS amid the looming expiration, on Oct. 1, of funding for PEPFAR, the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief.

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Federal Government

QAnon follower pleads guilty to threatening member of Congress

Conspiracy movement claims Satan-worshipping pedophiles secretly rule the world

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QAnon banner at a pro-gun rally in Richmond, Va., in 2020. (YouTube screenshot from Anthony Crider)

A New Mexico man has entered a plea deal after being charged with a federal criminal complaint of making threats through interstate communications directed at a member of Congress.

Federal prosecutors charged Michael David Fox, a resident of Doña Ana County, for calling the Houston district office of an unnamed member of Congress on or about May 18, 2023, and uttering threats that included knowingly threatening to kill an active member of Congress.

The plea agreement was brought before U.S. Magistrate Judge Damian L. Martinez of U.S. District Court in New Mexico in the Las Cruces by Fox’s attorney from the Federal Public Defender’s Office in August.

According to the criminal complaint as outlined by a Federal Bureau of Investigation criminal investigator for the Albuquerque Field Office, Las Cruces Resident Agency, on May 18 at approximately 9:04 p.m. Fox called the office of a congresswoman for the District of Texas, U.S. House of Representatives (Victim One/”V1″), who is from Houston. The call was received by V1’s office.

In the phone call Fox stated “Hey [Vl], you’re a man. It’s official. You’re literally a tranny and a pedophile, and I’m going to put a bullet in your fucking face. You mother fucking satanic cock smoking son of a whore. You understand me you fucker?” 

Law enforcement was able to trace the call back to Las Cruces, N.M., and it was believed that Fox was the user of cell phone account used to make the call. According to the FBI agents who interviewed Fox, he admitted to making the call.

Fox acknowledged that the threat was direct but claimed that he did not own any guns. Fox
claimed to be a member of the Q2 Truth Movement, the Q Movement. Fox explained these
movements believe all over the world there were transgender individuals running
governments, kingdoms and corporations. 

Fox told the FBI that there is a plan called “Q the Plan to Save the World” which he learned about from an online video. Fox claimed that he believed Q was going to engage in the “eradication” of the people who were causing all the world’s misery. He believed that part of the eradication had already happened.

Fox explained that he had run Vl’s skull features through forensic analysis and determined
that Vl was born male and is now trans. Fox discussed his military service with the
U.S. Air Force, “Q the Plan to Save the World,” and how God communicates using
numbers. 

Fox continued to reiterate several different types of conspiracy theories indicating
extreme far right ideologies as his explanation for why he conducted the phone call to
threaten V1.

According to the FBI, Fox rescinded his threat against Vl and apologized. Fox claimed he was not intoxicated or under the influence of drugs when he made the call. Fox stated he understood how Vl would feel threatened by his phone call, and he acknowledged that anyone he knew or cared about would also be concerned with such a threat.

The charge of interstate threatening communications carries a maximum penalty of five years in federal prison.

QAnon began in 2017, when a mysterious figure named “Q” started posting on the online message board 4chan, claiming to have inside access to government secrets. Since then, QAnon has grown into a conspiracy movement that claims Satan-worshipping pedophiles secretly rule the world. It is claimed by QAnon adherents that former President Donald Trump is the only person who can defeat them. 

Brooklyn, N.Y.-based journalist Ana Valens, a reporter specializing in queer internet culture, online censorship and sex workers’ rights noted that Fox appears to be a “transvestigator.” Valens noted that the transvestigation conspiracy theory is a fringe movement within QAnon that claims the world is primarily run by trans people. Phrenological analysis is common among transvestigators, with a prominent focus on analyzing celebrities for proof that they are trans.

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