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Boehner denies DOMA contract violates law

Dodges question on whether cost to defend DOMA will exceed $500K



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

U.S. House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) asserted on Thursday that a contract executed to hire a private attorney to defend the Defense of Marriage Act in court complies with the law — despite earlier reporting that the agreement may be in violation of rules regarding government contracts.

During a news conference, Boehner denied the agreement was in violation of any House rules when asked by the Washington Blade if he’s confident the contract doesn’t violate a law mandating that government-allocated funds be approved through the congressional appropriations process before they’re obligated for any purpose.

“This hiring was approved by the Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group,” Boehner said. “I’m confident that it complies with all of the rules of the House.”

Boehner didn’t answer a subsequent question on whether he could assure taxpayers that the cost of hiring attorney Paul Clement won’t exceed the $500,000 initial top sum cap that was agreed to in the contract.

In April, House General Counsel Kerry Kircher, under direction from Boehner, executed a contract with Paul Clement, a former U.S. solicitor general, to assist with defense of DOMA in court for an initial total sum cap that could reach $500,000 and a blended rate of $520 an hour. The Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group had previously voted 3-2 on a party-line basis to take up defense of DOMA, which prohibits federal recognition of same-sex marriage, after the Obama administration announced in February it would no longer defend the anti-gay law in court.

The contract was executed with Clement through his partnership with the law firm Bancroft LLC. Clement had earlier been contracted to defend DOMA in court through his employment at King & Spalding, but the firm dropped the agreement to defend DOMA, citing an inadequate vetting process prior to taking up defense of the statute. Clement resigned from his position at King & Spalding and went to Bancroft, where he pledged to continue litigating on behalf of the law.

But many lawmakers have questioned the source of the funds for hiring Clement because they weren’t appropriated before his contract was executed and the Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group has no budget to allocate funds for this purpose.

Last month during a House Legislative Branch Appropriations Subcommittee hearing, Rep. Mike Honda (D-Calif.) asked Kircher and Dan Strodel, the House’s chief administrative officer, about the source of the funds for hiring Clement. Kircher replied they they wouldn’t come out of the Office of General Counsel’s budget and Strodel said he didn’t know from where the money would come.

According to The Huffington Post, Honda believes that the contract could be violating the Anti-Deficiency Act, which prohibits “involving the government in any obligation to pay money before funds have been appropriated for that purpose.” Violating the law with prior knowledge could lead to a fine or imprisonment.

In a statement provided to the Blade, Honda criticized Boehner for his response during the news conference and said continued defense of DOMA in court shouldn’t happen when the economy is the priority for Americans.

“Speaker Boehner just doesn’t get it,” Honda said. “The American people want Congress to focus on creating jobs and finding a way to preserve Medicare for future generations, not paying a high-priced private law firm $520 per hour to defend a constitutionally flawed and discriminatory law.”

Following the publication of The Huffington Post report, Democrats on the Committee on House Administration raised the question of whether the contract violated the Anti-Deficiency Act in a May 18 letter to Boehner. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) had also raised concerns about the contract in April 18 and April 20 letters to the House speaker.

Drew Hammill, a Pelosi spokesperson, said Pelosi has yet to receive a response from the letters she sent on April 18 or April 20, nor have Democrats on the Committee on House Administration received a response to their inquiries.

“It is long overdue for Mr. Boehner to answer the questions raised by Leader Pelosi and Members of the Committee on House Administration,” Hammill said. “Mr. Boehner has put taxpayers on the hook for his legal boondoggle to defend an indefensible statute. Apparently, the Republican mantra of spending cuts does not apply to their rightwing ideological agenda.”

Hammill noted the decision to defend DOMA in court was approved by the Republicans on the Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group with strong objections voiced by Pelosi and House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.). Additionally, Hammill said the contact wasn’t shared with Democrats on the Committee on House Administration before it was signed.

Michael Cole-Schwartz, spokesperson for the Human Rights Campaign, said Boehner’s response during the news conference is insufficient in the wake of questions that House Democrats raised following the execution of the contract.

“As the speaker remains adamant about defending discrimination with taxpayer dollars, members of Congress have rightly questioned the contract and procedure that brought in outside counsel,” Cole-Schwartz said. “This non-answer from Speaker Boehner isn’t even close to adequate especially given that it’s a member of the Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group, Minority Leader Pelosi, who has been demanding answers to these exact questions.”

The exchange between the Blade and Boehner follows:

Washington Blade: Mister Speaker, two questions on your decision to hire Paul Clement to defend the Defense of Marriage Act in court. First, are you confident that this contract isn’t in violation of the Anti-Deficiency Act? The amount of money to pay Clement seems to have been agreed upon first without being appropriated by Congress. Second, the contract hires Clement for initial total sum cap of $500,000. Can you assure the U.S. taxpayer that the cost of hiring Clement won’t exceed that amount?

Boehner: This hiring was approved by the Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group. I’m confident that it complies with all of the rules of the House.

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  1. Peter the saint

    June 3, 2011 at 11:05 pm

    C’mon Issa, did he break the law or not?! Is it ok for REPUBLICANS to break our nation’s laws? But not Democrats? Shouldn’t there be an inquisition— uhh, I mean, INQUIRY? Ya think? ;)

  2. Little Man

    June 9, 2011 at 3:17 am

    “after the Obama administration announced in February it would no longer defend the anti-gay law in court”

    DOMA has not been shown to be anti-gay (whatever gay means), because DOMA does not provide federal benefits to other types of couples, aside from gay couples.

    For instance, it also leaves so called Lesbian couples out. Further, it leaves other same-gender couples out too – room mates in college who’d like some extra Fed. benefits during this bad economy; and also leaves minors out (and some minors are getting married too), and laws like this leave blood-related couples out. Actually, it leaves everyone out (polygamists) who wants to form a friendship supported by the government. A law has to be just, and it has to be enforceable. DOMA draws the line at man and woman (and by that it means adult human beings). If we are re-defining “marriage”, then everyone is invited to redefine it to their own advantage.

    The problem is that it is impossible to have exact equality, because we are not all equally qualified.

    BUT, where’s all the money from the Feds. to cover benefits for all the newly included “marriages”? Need a Resident Visa for an alien friend, cheap? Redefine “marriage”, ignore the needs of children in this country, and PRESTO, we can bring millions into US citizenship and into this country, … legally. That’s not going to happen.

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VIDEO: Utah deal promoted as national model for LGBTQ rights, religious liberty

Data finds state has 2nd highest support for LGBTQ rights



(Screen capture via YouTube)

A new video from the premier LGBTQ group in Utah, challenging the idea LGBTQ rights must be at odds with religious liberty, promotes an agreement reached in the state as a potential model to achieve a long sought-after update to civil rights law at the federal level.

The video, published Friday by Equality Utah, focuses on a 2015 agreement in Utah between the supporters of LGBTQ rights and the Mormon Church to enact a compromise acceptable to both sides. The agreement by those two sides led to an LGBTQ civil rights law in the state, which has Republican control of the state legislature and the governor’s mansion.

Troy Williams, executive director of Equality Utah, says in the video dialogue is key to achieving meaningful success, whether its among the people of Utah, a state legislature or lawmakers in Congress.

“When you are working with LGBT rights in a state like Utah, and you want to advance legal equality, you can’t do it without working with Republicans, with conservative, with people of faith,” Williams says.

Williams, speaking with the Washington Blade over a Zoom call, said the main audience for the video is people on “the center right and the center left” willing to listen to other side when it comes to LGBTQ rights and religious liberty.

“People that have the courage to reach out to each other, and sit down across from each other and say, ‘Hey look, let’s hammer this out,” Williams said. “That’s who my audience is.”

Not only did Utah enact non-discrimination protections for LGBTQ people, but the state under a Republican governor administratively banned widely discredited conversion therapy for youth. When lawmakers proposed legislation that would ban transgender youth from competing in school sports, the proposal was scuttled when Gov. Spencer Cox (whom Williams called a “super Mormon”) said he’d veto it after it came to his desk.

Marina Gomberg, a former board for Equality Utah, is another voice in the video seeking dispel the narrative religious liberty and LGBTQ rights are in conflict.

“in order to protect LGBTQ people, we don have to deny religious liberty, and in order to provide protections for religious liberties, we don’t have to deny LGBTQ people,” Gomberg says. “The idea that we do is a fallacy that Utah has dismantled.”

In July, new polling demonstrated the surprisingly the Utah, despite being a conservative state, has the second highest percentage of state population in support for non-discrimination protections for LGBTQ people. The data Public Religion Research Institute from 77 percent of Utah residents support LGBTQ people, which is just behind New Hampshire at 81 percent.

Tyler Deaton, senior adviser for the pro-LGBTQ American Unity Fund, said the Utah agreement demonstrates the possibility of reaching an agreement at the federal level once “second order” issues are put into perspective.

“The first order question has to be how are we winning the culture,” Deaton said. “Do people even want to pass the bill? And if they do, you then figure out the details.”

The American Unity Fund has helped promote as a path forward for LGBTQ non-discrimination at the federal level the Fairness for For All Act, legislation seeking to reach a middle ground on LGBTQ rights and religious freedom. Polling earlier this year found 57 percent of the American public back a bipartisan solution in Congress to advance LGBTQ civil rights.

Supporters of the Equality Act, the more established vehicle for LGBTQ rights before Congress, say the Fairness for For All Act would give too many carve-out for LGBTQ rights in the name of religious freedom. The Equality Act, however, is all but dead in Congress and has shown no movement in the U.S. Senate.

Skeptics of the Utah law would point out the law doesn’t address public accommodations, one of the more challenging aspects in the fight for LGBTQ rights and one or remaining gaps in civil rights protections for LGBTQ people in the aftermath of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision last year in Bostock v. Clayton County. As a result, it’s perfectly legal in Utah for a business owner to discriminate against LGBTQ coming as patrons.

Williams, however, shrugged off the idea the lack of public accommodations protections in Utah make the agreement in the state makes it any less of a model, making the case the spirit behind the deal is what matters.

“I think copying and pasting Utah’s law doesn’t work for lots of reasons,” Wililams said. “What’s most important is a model of collaboration because when you are sitting around the table with each other — Democrats and Republicans, LGBTQ people and people of faith — that’s when the transformation happens. That is when the mutual respect is really forged.”

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Venezuelan man with AIDS dies in ICE custody

Pablo Sánchez Gotopo passed away at Miss. hospital on Oct. 1



Pablo Sanchez Gotopo, who was living with HIV/AIDS, died in U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody in Mississippi on Oct. 1, 2021. (Courtesy photo)

A Venezuelan man with AIDS died in U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody on Oct. 1.

An ICE press release notes Pablo Sánchez Gotopo, 40, died at Merit Health River Oaks in Flowood, Miss., which is a suburb of Jackson, the state capital. The press release notes the “preliminary cause of death was from complications with acute respiratory failure, Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS), pneumonia, acute kidney failure, anemia and COVID-19.”

ICE said U.S. Border Patrol took Sánchez into custody near Del Rio, Texas, on May 17. He arrived at the Adams County Detention Center in Natchez, Miss., four days later.

“Upon arrival to an ICE facility, all detainees are medically screened and administered a COVID-19 test by ICE Health Service Corps (IHSC) personnel,” said ICE in its press release. “Sánchez’s test results came back negative.”

The press release notes Sánchez on July 28 received another COVID-19 test after he “began showing symptoms of COVID-19.” ICE said he tested negative, but Adams County Detention Center personnel transferred him to a Natchez hospital “for additional advanced medical care.”

ICE Enforcement and Removal Operations staff in its New Orleans Field Office, according to the press release, “coordinated with hospital staff to arrange family visitation” after Sánchez’s “health condition deteriorated.” Sánchez was transferred to Merit Health River Oaks on Sept. 25.

“ICE is firmly committed to the health and welfare of all those in its custody and is undertaking a comprehensive agency-wide review of this incident, as it does in all such cases,” says the press release.

Venezuela’s political and economic crises have prompted more than 10,000 people with HIV to leave the country, according to the New York-based Aid for AIDS International.

Activists and health care service providers in Venezuela with whom the Washington Blade has spoken in recent years have said people with HIV/AIDS in the country have died because of a lack of antiretroviral drugs. Andrés Cardona, director of Fundación Ancla, a group in the Colombian city of Medellín that works with migrants and other vulnerable groups, told the Blade last month that many Venezuelans with HIV would have died if they hadn’t come to Colombia.

The Blade has not been able to verify a Venezuelan activist’s claim that Sánchez was gay. It is also not known why Sánchez decided to leave Venezuela and travel to the U.S.

ICE detainee with HIV described Miss. detention center as ‘not safe’

Activists and members of Congress continue to demand ICE release people with HIV/AIDS in their custody amid reports they don’t have adequate access to medications and other necessary medical treatment.

Two trans women with HIV—Victoria Arellano from Mexico and Roxsana Hernández from Honduras—died in ICE custody in 2007 and 2018 respectively. Johana “Joa” Medina Leon, a trans woman with HIV who fled El Salvador, died in 2019, three days after ICE released her from a privately-run detention center.

The Blade in July 2020 interviewed a person with HIV who was in ICE custody at the Adams County Detention Center. The detainee said there was no social distancing at the privately-run facility and personnel were not doing enough to prevent COVID-19 from spreading.

“It’s not safe,” they told the Blade.

The entrance to the Adams County Detention Center in Natchez, Miss. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Elisabeth Grant-Gibson, a Natchez resident who supports ICE detainees and their families, on Wednesday told the Blade that she was able to visit the Adams County Detention Center and other ICE facilities in the Miss Lou Region of Mississippi and Louisiana from November 2019 until the suspension of in-person visitation in March 2020 because of the pandemic.

“Medical neglect and refusal of medical care has always been an issue in the detention center at Adams County,” said Grant-Gibson. “After the facilities were closed to public visitation, those problems increased.”

Grant-Gibson told the Blade she “worked with a number of families and received phone calls from a number of detainees, and I was told again and again that detainees were being refused the opportunity to visit the infirmary.”

“When they did visit the infirmary, they were given virtually no treatment for the issues they were presenting with,” said Grant-Gibson.

ICE in its press release that announced Sánchez’s death said fatalities among its detainees, “statistically, are exceedingly rare and occur at a fraction of the national average for the U.S. detained population.” ICE also noted it spends more than $315 million a year “on the spectrum of healthcare services provided to detainees.”

“ICE’s Health Service Corps (IHSC) ensures the provision of necessary medical care services as required by ICE Performance-Based National Detention Standards and based on the medical needs of the detainee,” notes the ICE press release. “Comprehensive medical care is provided from the moment detainees arrive and throughout the entirety of their stay. All ICE detainees receive medical, dental, and mental health intake screening within 12 hours of arriving at each detention facility, a full health assessment within 14 days of entering ICE custody or arrival at a facility, and access to daily sick call and 24-hour emergency care.”

An ICE spokesperson on Wednesday pointed the Blade to its Performance-Based Detention Standards from 2011, which includes policies for the treatment of detainees with HIV/AIDS.

A detainee “may request HIV testing at any time during detention” and ICE detention centers “shall develop a written plan to ensure the highest degree of confidentiality regarding HIV status and medical condition.” The policy also states that “staff training must emphasize the need for confidentiality, and procedures must be in place to limit access to health records to only authorized individuals and only when necessary.”

“The accurate diagnosis and medical management of HIV infection among detainees shall be promoted,” reads the policy. “An HIV diagnosis may be made only by a licensed health care provider, based on a medical history, current clinical evaluation of signs and symptoms and laboratory studies.”

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Rachel Levine on becoming four-star admiral: ‘It comes from my desire to serve’

Trans official sworn-in to U.S. Public Health Service



For Rachel Levine, the appointment to her new role as a four-star admiral complementing her existing duties as assistant secretary for health is another way for the first openly transgender Senate-confirmed presidential appointee to serve.

“I think that this just really comes from my desire to serve in all capacities,” Levine said in an interview Tuesday with the Washington Blade. “To serve the first day in my field of academic medicine and pediatrics, but then in Pennsylvania and now in the federal government, and it furthers my ability to do that.”

Levine, 63, also recognized the importance of the appointment as a transgender person within the U.S. Public Health Service, for which she was ceremonially sworn in on Tuesday

“I think for the LGBTQ+ community, it is a further sign of progress and our president’s commitment to equity, to inclusion and diversity,” Levine said. “So I think that it is a very important milestone, and I’m pleased to serve.”

As part of her duties, Levine will lead an estimated 6,000 public health service officers serving vulnerable populations, including deployments inside and outside the country for communities beleaguered with the coronavirus, according to the Department of Health & Human Services. The role involves working closely with U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murphy, whom Levine called her “friend and colleague.”

The U.S. Public Health Service, Levine said, has deployed “many, many times,” including its greatest number ever of deployments to vulnerable populations during the coronavirus pandemic. Among the places the service has deployed, Levine said, was in her home state of Pennsylvania, where she recently served as secretary of health.

Not only is Levine the first openly transgender person to serve in the uniformed health service as a four-star general, but she’s also the first woman to serve in that capacity.

“We have 6,000 dedicated committed public servants really all focused on our nation’s health, and they serve in details to the CDC and the FDA and the NIH, but also clinically with the Indian Health Service, and the federal prison system,” Levine said. “They’re also detailed and deployed throughout the country, and they deployed like never before for COVID-19 as well as the border, as well as dealing with floods and hurricanes and tornadoes.”

Although the Public Health Service is primarily focused on addressing public health disasters within the United States, Levine said it has a record of deployments overseas, including years ago when it was deployed to Africa under the threat of Ebola.

Secretary of Health & Human Services Xavier Becerra had high praise for Levine in a statement upon news of taking on a leadership position in the service.

“This is a proud moment for us at HHS,” Becerra said. “Adm. Levine — a highly accomplished pediatrician who helps drive our agency’s agenda to boost health access and equity and to strengthen behavioral health — is a cherished and critical partner in our work to build a healthier America.”

Levine, however, was careful to draw a distinction between her appointment within the Public Health Service and being a service member within the U.S. armed forces.

“It is not a military branch, it’s not the armed forces: It’s a uniformed force, so it’s different,” Levine said. “For example, the Army, the Navy, our military, there are two other uniformed branches, and that is ours, the United States Public Health Service Commissioned Corps and NOAA.”

The new role, Levine said, would complement her duties as assistant secretary for health. Although not only secretaries of health have been commissioned to take the uniform, Levine said she wanted to undertake that as part of her role in the Biden administration.

The two appointments were not simultaneous, Levine said, because of a general process she undertook, which was completed just this week.

It hasn’t been an easy road for Levine. During her Senate confirmation process, when she was hounded by anti-transgender attacks in conservative media and rude, invasive questioning by Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) on her gender identity.

Levine, however, said she hasn’t encountered any hostility regarding her new role (as of now) and shrugged off any potential attacks in the future and said the move is about her career “to serve and to help people.”

“I’ve continued that for our nation as the assistant secretary for health and this is just a further demonstration of my commitment to service,” Levine said. “I don’t know what others will say, but that’s the genesis of my wanting to serve in the United States Public Health Service Commissioned Corps, and to place on the uniform.”

Levine’s new appointment comes shortly after a group of Democratic senators led by Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) sent her a letter dated Sept. 30 calling on her and Miriam Delphin-Rittmon, assistant secretary for mental health and substance use, to issue new guidance for hospital or residential care on mental health needs of transgender people.

Asked about the letter, Levine said mental health issues are under the authority of Delphin-Rittmon and the two “will work together and we will respond.”

Specifically, the senators in the letter call on the Behavioral Health Coordinating Council, or BHCC, and experts in the field of adolescent trans care to offer guidance on best practices for inpatient mental health care among these youth.

Asked what the response will look like, Levine said, “We’re going to work on that.”

“We will be looking at what they’re asking for and the requirements, and we’ll talk with them and the stakeholders and we’ll look to issue appropriate guidance,” Levine said.

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