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Boehner: Cut DOJ funds to pay for House DOMA defense

Speaker taps Bush solicitor general to defend law

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U.S. House Speaker John Boehner (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

U.S. House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) on Monday called for redirection of funds from the Justice Department to Congress to pay for defense of the Defense of Marriage Act in court as he made public his decision to hire a U.S. solicitor general from the Bush administration to defend the anti-gay statute.

In a letter dated April 18 to House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), Boehner calls for cutting funds from the Justice Department to provide money to the House general counsel to pay for congressional costs to defend in court DOMA, the 1996 anti-gay law that prohibits federal recognition of same-sex marriage.

On the same day, Boehner’s office announced that Paul Clement, who served as U.S. solicitor general under President George W. Bush, would assist the House general counsel in taking up defense of DOMA against litigation. Clement is now a partner at the D.C.-based office for the firm King & Spalding, where he manages the national appellate practice.

Boehner made the announcements on the deadline day for the House to decide whether or not to intervene in one case challenging DOMA, Windsor v. United States, which was filed by the American Civil Liberties Union and is pending before the U.S. District Court of Southern District of New York. The House general counsel filed a notice of its intent to intervene on Monday.

In his letter to Pelosi, Boehner writes that funds should be redirected from the Obama administration to Congress to pay for expenses that the speaker says would have been more rightfully incurred by the Justice Department.

“Obviously, DOJ’s decision results in DOJ no longer needing the funds it would have otherwise expended defending the constitutionality of DOMA,” Boehner writes. “It is my intent that those funds be diverted to the House for reimbursement of any costs incurred by and associated with the House, and not DOJ, defending DOMA.”

On Feb. 23, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder notified Congress that President Obama determined DOMA was unconstitutional and that the Justice Department would no longer defend the anti-gay law against litigation in court. Following a 3-2 party-line vote in March by the Bipartisan Legal Advisory Council, Boehner directed the House general counsel to take up defense of DOMA in place of the administration.

In his letter, Boehner writes that the Justice Department would be in a better position to defend DOMA — both in terms of resource allocation and in expertise of personnel — but adds the administration’s decision to drop defense of the anti-gay law leaves Congress no other option but to face “that additional burden and cost.

“I would also point out that the cost associated with DOJ’s decision is exacerbated by the timing of this decision,” Boehner writes. “Most of these cases are in the middle of lower court litigation and not ripe for Supreme Court review. Had the Attorney General waited until the cases were ripe for certiorari to the Supreme Court, the costs associated with the House defense would have been exponentially lower.”

Obama dropped defense of DOMA in court after litigation against the statute was filed in the U.S. Second Circuit. Since no legal precedent for laws related to sexual orientation exists within this circuit, Obama had the opportunity to examine DOMA with heightened scrutiny, which led to his determination that the anti-gay law was unconstitutional.

Boehner’s letter was in response to a March 11 letter that Pelosi sent to the speaker asking him if he had an estimate for House defense of DOMA and a plan to provide congressional oversight of these expenses. Earlier this month during a news conference, Boehner told the Washington Blade he doesn’t have an estimate on the cost for House defense of DOMA.

In his letter, Boehner asks Pelosi, a sponsor of legislation to repeal DOMA, to join him in backing the redirection of funds from the Justice Department to Congress to defend the anti-gay statute in court.

“I would welcome your joining me in support of redirecting those resources from the DOJ to the House that would otherwise have been necessary expenses on the Attorney General to defend this federal statute,” Boehner writes.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

In another letter dated April 18 responding to Boehner, Pelosi writes that the speaker didn’t answer the central question in her initial missive on the total estimated cost for House defense of DOMA.

“Unfortunately, your letter did not respond to the central question in my March 11th letter: the cost to taxpayers of hiring outside legal counsel,” Pelosi writes. “Again, I am requesting that you disclose the cost of hiring outside counsel for the 12 cases where DOMA is being challenged.”

Pelosi also maintains that House defense of DOMA against litigation isn’t required and disputes an assertion from Boehner that administration’s decision amounts to the president unilaterally determining the constitutionality of the anti-gay law.

“As you know, only the courts can determine the constitutionality of a statute passed by the Congress,” Pelosi writes.

Finally, Pelosi takes issue with Boehner’s decision to hire Clement as an attorney in the case and says Democrats weren’t informed about the decision beforehand.

“According to reports, a contract engaging Paul D. Clement to serve as the outside counsel reportedly was forwarded to the Committee on House Administration, although not to the Democratic members or staff of the Committee,” Pelosi writes. “I would like to know when the contract with Mr. Clement was signed, and why a copy was not provided to Democrats on the Committee.”

One LGBT advocate lambasted Boehner for declaring that Congress should defund part of the Justice Department so that House can take up defense of DOMA.

Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign, said Boehner’s decision amounts to a betrayal of House Republicans promise to work to improve the economy if elected to a majority in Congress.

“The House Republican Leadership continues to show that they’re more interested in scoring cheap political points on the backs of same-sex couples than tackling real problems,” Solmonese said. “As Americans across the country continue to struggle, Speaker Boehner’s prescription has been to keep families he doesn’t like from accessing needed protections. To add insult to injury, he’s now signed on to a right-wing plan to cut funding for the Department of Justice.”

Boehner cannot unilaterally redirect congressionally allocated funds from the Justice Department to the House for the purposes of defending DOMA. Both the House and the Senate would have to approve the fund redistribution legislatively through the appropriations process — and such a measure would need Obama’s signature for enactment.

During a news conference Monday, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said in response to a question from ABC News’ Ann Compton on Boehner’s call to redirect from funds the Justice Department that the administration would work with Congress on the issue.

“I’m not aware of that [letter],” Carney said. “I don’t any comment specifically on funding. I do know that the day that announced that this year. I spoke about it, but we obviously will work with Congress, if Congress so chooses to move forward.”

Pressed further by Compton, Carney deferred comment to the Justice Department. Both the White House and the Justice Department declined to comment further on the development in response to a request by the Blade.

The total amount of funds that Congress could redirect from the Justice Department to the House general counsel as a result of the Obama administration’s decision to no longer defend DOMA in court remains in questions. In testimony March 1 before the House Appropriations Committee, Holder said the funds that the Justice Department would save by not defending DOMA would be insignificant.

“I’m not sure we save any money, frankly.” Holder said. “The people who would be defending the statute, were we to do that, are career employees of the Department of Justice, who will not be spending their time doing that; they will be spending their time doing other things. I’m not sure that I see any savings as a result of the decision that I announced with the president.”

Paul Clement (photo courtesy King & Spalding)

Boehner taps Paul Clement to defend DOMA

In addition to railing against Boehner’s call to defund part of the Justice Department to defend DOMA, LGBT advocates criticized Boehner for hiring Clement as outside counsel to defend the anti-gay law in court as well as the attorney for taking up the speaker’s cause.

According to his bio on King & Spalding’s website, Clement served as the 43rd U.S. solicitor general 2005 to 2008 and argued more than 50 cases before the U.S. Supreme Court. In private practice, Clement has focused on appellate matters, constitutional litigation and strategic counseling.

In September 2009, the Washingtonian reported that Clement was making $5 million at the law firm — while the average salary for other attorneys at the firm made $1.235 million in 2008. D.C. managing partner J. Sedwick Sollers reportedly wouldn’t comment on Clement’s salary.

Clement didn’t respond on short notice to the Blade’s request to comment on why he was interested in defending DOMA or what his legal fees would cost the U.S. government.

Michael Steel, a Boehner spokesperson, confirmed that the speaker had hired Clement to take on defense of DOMA, but didn’t have information the fees for taking him on retainer.

“The costs will be determined by Mr. Clement’s legal strategy,” Steel said. “Earlier today, the Speaker sent a letter to Rep. Pelosi, the Democratic Leader in the House, urging her to work with us to redirect the necessary funds from the Department of Justice — since they have declined to defend the law.”

LGBT advocates had harsh words for both Clement and King & Spalding for facilitating defense of DOMA in court. Solmonese rebuked the firm’s for allowing Clement to defend the ant-gay law as part of his private practice.

“The firm of King & Spalding has brought a shameful stain on its reputation in arguing for discrimination against loving, married couples,” Solmonese said.  “No amount taxpayer money they rake in will mitigate this blemish on the King & Spalding name.”

According to HRC, media reports have indicated that Clement’s hourly fees could top $1,000, which could his role in defending DOMA pricey for the U.S. government if the litigation, as expected, takes years to reach the Supreme Court.

James Esseks, director of the ACLU’s lesbian, gay, bisexual transgender and AIDS project, said Boehner’s decision to take on a private attorney to defend DOMA is notable at a time when deficit reduction is a top priority among U.S. leaders.

“It’s striking that Congress has decided at a time of budget cuts that this where they want to spend their money,” Esseks said. “They want to spend taxpayer dollars to try to defend a law that clearly is unconstitutional instead of trying of getting rid of the law, which they can easily do.”

Esseks said he doesn’t have an estimate for how much retaining Clement would cost the U.S government, but — noting his job history and his position at a prestigious law firm — said Clement’s legal fees would be probably be “pretty high.”

But Gary Buseck, legal director for Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders, which has two pending cases challenging DOMA — Gill v. U.S. Office of Personnel Management and Pedersen v. U.S. Office of Personnel Management — had more mild words for Clement.

“Paul Clement is obviously a well-respected attorney,” Buseck said. “We’re happy the House has chosen its counsel so that the DOMA litigation can once again go forward.”

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Real Estate

How much home can I afford with rising interest rates?

Put your best foot forward when making an offer

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In today’s hot market, there are often stories of bidding wars and multiple offers.

For many, purchasing a home is a significant, exciting expenditure. It’s one of the biggest financial decisions many people make, and it’s one that is worth considering carefully. Often, in a market as competitive and fast-moving as the current one, homebuyers find themselves looking at potential homes and realizing that a highly competitive offer may be necessary. There are often stories of bidding wars and multiple offers being made on available homes in a matter of days. 

While that may not be the case forever, what will remain true is that most homebuyers want to put their best foot forward when making an offer. Most buyers want to find a home they love, that they can bid on competitively, and that they can afford if they end up being the chosen buyer. This begs the question – what type of offer is reasonable to make given your financial circumstances? How much home can you afford? These are important questions to ask.

A closer look at the calculations

Determining how much you can comfortably spend on the mortgage for a new home while still meeting all of your other existing financial obligations is an important calculation to make ahead of time. After all, purchasing a home is a decision that can significantly impact your financial situation, so you want to be sure that you’re fully informed and that you feel confident in the choice you make. 

Often, the rule of thumb where mortgages are concerned is that you can “afford” a mortgage that is around 2 to 2.5 times your income. A mortgage payment is typically made up of four primary components – principal, interest, taxes, and insurance. It is important to consider each of these components when determining the total amount of the mortgage, and what percentage of your annual gross income will go toward that payment. Often called the front-end ratio, or mortgage-to-income ratio, you’ll want to consider that percentage and usually seek to secure a mortgage payment that does not exceed roughly 28 to 30% of your annual gross income. Considering the numbers is only a part of the picture, however.

Looking beyond the numbers

Making this decision is not always strictly a matter of numbers and calculations. It also involves carefully considering your priorities and preferences and truly making a decision that you feel will give you the freedom to live in a home that you love and enjoy, while also continuing to maintain the lifestyle that you love. Determining how much house you can afford will depend on a variety of factors, including:

Your loan amount and the term of years over which your mortgage will last;

Your income;

Your total monthly expenses;

Any taxes you might be required to pay, property or otherwise;

Current mortgage rates and estimated closing costs;

Any homeowners’ association fees;

Any other relevant factors that you determine should be considered in consultation with a trusted agent. 

After considering all of these factors, be certain to keep in mind that it’s also important to be realistic as you make your decision about what you can comfortably afford. Don’t underestimate your monthly expenses. It may not be helpful to tell yourself that you’ll cut back on leisure spending if you don’t think you really will, or to underestimate what you might need in an emergency fund for unexpected events. Doing so can often leave you in a difficult spot where debt can accumulate quickly. If anything, it’s best to overestimate your expenses so that you have some breathing room in your budget. 

We’re here for you

Wherever you are in the real estate process – if you’re searching for the perfect home to buy, considering whether now is the time to sell, or anywhere in between – at GayRealEstate.com, we’re here for you. We are passionate about connecting LGBTQ buyers and sellers across the country with talented, experienced, and LGBTQ-friendly real estate agents who know and love the communities in which they live and are ready to help you calculate just how much home you can afford, and connect you with a top LGBTQ+ mortgage lender for prequalification. Having the right agent can make all the difference to your real estate experience, and we want it to be the very best it can be. If we can help you, visit us at GayRealEstate.com today to get connected and get started. 

Jeff Hammerberg is founding CEO of Hammerberg & Associates, Inc. Reach him at 303-378-5526 or [email protected]

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Dining

Crazy Aunt Helen’s to host ‘Pride-a-palooza’

Barracks Row restaurant celebrating all month long

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Crazy Aunt Helen’s ‘serves American comfort food with a southern slant.’ (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Shane Mayson’s restaurant is as colorful as his language. His multi-hued American eatery Crazy Aunt Helen’s debuted last July on Barracks Row, just a few days after Pride concluded. But as Pride is 365, this restaurant has spent its first year with flair and fanfare, and this June, Mayson, who identifies as gay, isn’t holding back.

“I LOVE PRIDE MONTH,” Mayson wrote (caps are his). “I love everything we have at Crazy Aunt Helen’s for Pride. Check out our events and get blown away,” he says.

This isn’t Mayson’s first Pride – but it is his first as owner of Crazy Aunt Helen’s, a delightfully fabulous neighborhood restaurant in Barracks Row.  

Thus far in June, Mayson has already held comedy shows, book readings, a ladies’ tea dance, play readings, bingo, and a Story District event. Coming up on June 25, to end Pride month with even more color, is “Pride-a-palooza,” featuring a host of drag queens, food, drinks, prizes, and plenty of surprises that MayD.C. Mayor Muriel Bowserson has been waiting an entire year to showcase.

Crazy Aunt Helen’s “serves American comfort food with a southern slant,” explains Mayson. Taking over the space of Irish pub Finn McCool’s, Crazy Aunt Helen’s spreads over two floors, plus a patio and streatery. The interior is wildly bright: a Prince-esque purple host stand and staircase welcome guests, and a highlighter-green wooden banquette runs the length of the dining room. A set of wicker chairs and flower-print cushions recall that southern influence.

Mayson enlisted Pixie Windsor – the very same of eponymous Miss Pixie’s – to design the restaurant (the two have been friends for years). “Pixie has a way with creating fabulous comfortable spaces,” Mayson says. 

Windsor and Mayson partnered to craft the whimsical aesthetic, from the brilliant paint job to a bright-pink neon sign.

Mayson is quick to note that his Aunt Helen “was charming, warm, and funny, with an amazing laugh, and I wanted my restaurant to have that same feeling,” he says. “I wanted our guests to feel like they are getting a big’ol hug each time they walk in the doors.” 

The menu is just as homey and eclectic. Mayson waxes poetic about the fried green tomatoes, the chicken fried steak smothered in chicken sausage gravy, and a Jewish-style braised brisket. Yet many of the dishes are also vegan and vegetarian, like the “fab” cakes made of soy and mushroom and a vegan steak.

As for the drinks, Mayson says that the “signature cocktails are also seasonally driven, and I only use local distilleries like Republic Restoratives, another LGBTQIA business.” There’s also a list of beer, wine, and zero-proof drinks.

Mayson has been in the restaurant business since he moved to D.C. in 1984, working first at Mr. Henry’s on Capitol Hill, and most recently as director of business development for the restaurant group of the highly lauded restaurant industry leader, and lesbian, Jamie Leeds.

Mayson is using Pride this year as Crazy Aunt Helen’s coming out, both as a restaurant and a safe space. “I can say that I have had experiences in my life where I didn’t feel welcomed places. The staff and I work very hard to make sure everyone who walks into Crazy Aunt Helen’s feels welcome,” he says.

“I find it’s the small things that build to allow folks to feel safe,” he notes. There’s no required uniform, allowing staff to dress however they feel most comfortable. Mayson also makes an effort to support local LGBTQ artists and performers, giving them space in the second-floor Peacock Room to share their talents.

To that end, Mayson is offering The Rainbow Theatre Project, a theater group that has been dark since pandemic closings, a home until they are back up and running. During June, they performed four staged readings from four LGBTQ playwrights. “I can’t wait to have the Peacock Room buzzing with entertainment every night of the week and to hear all the people laughing and enjoying the food, each other and the show,” Mayson says.

Mayson’s goal at Crazy Aunt Helen’s is twofold: create a space “that’s welcoming and nourishing to both our bellies and our spirits.”

Shane Mayson (Photo courtesy of Mayson)

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Autos

BMW speed demons

Two fun, flashy high-performance rides

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BMW M3 Competition xDrive sport sedan

Just in time for Pride month, two BMW sport sedans celebrate just how fun, fast and flashy a true high-performance ride can be.

BMW M3 COMPETITION xDRIVE
$78,000
Mpg: 16 city/22 highway
0 to 60 mph: 3.2 seconds

Talk about a pocket rocket, it’s hard to beat the thrill of the BMW M3 Competition xDrive sport sedan. This 503-horsepower speed demon streaks from 0 to 60 mph as fast as many premium sportsters, including the glitzy new 621-horsepower Maserati MC20 super coupe — which costs a whopping $215,000. Along with the lower price tag, the M3 has room for twice as many passengers and boasts three times as much rear cargo space as that two-person Maserati.

While this high-test BMW may be classified as a compact car, there’s ample legroom, decent headroom and a sharply angled dashboard for improved driver visibility. My test car had optional carbon-fiber racing bucket seats, trimmed in snazzy aqua blue and lemon yellow and backlit with illuminated M logos. While the futuristic design is truly a piece of art, scooching in and out of those sci-fi seats — which sit lower than standard seats and have sharply angled side bolsters—was quite a challenge. And, hello, it didn’t help that a “thigh separator” (a raised, hard-padded object stuck in the middle of the bottom cushion) protruded oh-so-close to my scrotum. Let’s just say I got more than my fill of butt-clenching exercises during the week-long test drive.

But once situated comfortably behind the sculpted steering wheel, all was forgiven. The M3 cabin is superbly sleek, with modish armrests and a duo of sweeping digital display screens. The eight-speed automatic transmission is wicked smooth, making it practically unnoticeable as the car shifts through gears. And the overall handling is rousing yet controlled, especially with the all-wheel drive. When not grooving to the guttural exhaust growl, I enjoyed jamming to a sparkling 16-speaker Harman Kardon stereo. There are plenty of other creature comforts, such as smartphone integration, wireless charging pad and Wi-Fi hotspot. Driving aids include blind-spot monitor, head-up display, collision alert and pedestrian detection. There’s even a system to automatically pull the car over if the driver falls asleep at the wheel. As you could tell, I didn’t have to worry about that happening.

BMW M440i GRAN COUPE xDRIVE
$60,000
Mpg: 22 city/29 highway
0 to 60 mph: 4.5 seconds

M440i Gran Coupe xDrive

If the BMW M3 Competition xDrive is a badass sport sedan, then the M440i Gran Coupe xDrive is more buttoned-down — but only to a point. The M Sport trim level on both vehicles includes sturdier brakes, suspension, and stability control. And each car can be ordered with all-wheel drive, a big plus considering the number of downpours and icy road conditions in this part of the country.

But the M3 is extra taut, tight and tuned — a race car enthusiast’s dream — whereas the M440i feels as suave as an Aston Martin. Think of it as trading flash for finesse. Styling is just as sharp, though the body cladding, side air vents and rear spoiler are all less pronounced on the 4 Series. It’s also wider and sits higher off the ground. And instead of having a trunk lid, the M440i is a hatchback with a more swoopy profile and easier access to the cargo area. Despite smaller wheels and about two-thirds the horsepower of an M3, the M440i is still plucky and a delight to drive.

And safety features and optional amenities are comparable. Inside, the cabin exudes refined BMW luxury but loses the Jedi spaceship vibe so noticeable on the M3. Gauges and the infotainment layout are the same, with similar but fewer performance-oriented readouts on the digital screens. I still found the M440i cabin to be plenty sporty, with premium fit and finish. And there’s beaucoup insulation to block annoying road noise. Perhaps most important, my tush welcomed the return to more traditional seats.

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