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House GOP cost cap for DOMA defense reaches $3 million

Agreement reached in secret on first day of 113th Congres

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John Boehner, Speaker of the House, GOP, Republican, gay news, Washington Blade
John Boehner, Speaker of the House, GOP, Republican, gay news, Washington Blade

U.S. House Speaker, John Boehner has directed the House to defend DOMA in court (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

House Republicans secretly agreed to raise the cost for defending the Defense of Marriage Act in court to $3 million in the first week that the 113th Congress was sworn into office, according to a copy of the contract obtained by the Washington Blade on Tuesday.

The contract, signed by new House Committee on Administration Chair Candace Miller (R-Mich.), allows for expenses to pay for outside counsel to defend DOMA in court to reach $3 million — a full $1 million more than the previous cost cap agreed to in September. In a statement this week, House Democrats said the agreement was reached in secret and they weren’t aware of it until late Monday.

“The General Counsel agrees to pay the Contractor for all services to be rendered pursuant to this Agreement a sum not to exceed $2,750,000.00,” the contract states. “It is further understood and agreed that, effective January 4, 2013, the aforementioned $2,750,000.00 cap may be raised from time to time up to, but not exceeding, $3,000,000, upon written notice of the General Counsel to the Contractor specifying that the General Counsel is legally liable under this Agreement for a specific amount.”

The contact was signed by House General Counsel Kerry Kircher and private attorney Paul Clement, the former Bush administration U.S. solicitor general hired to defend DOMA in court, on Jan. 3, or the first day of the 113th Congress. Miller signed the contract on Jan. 4.

On the same day the attorneys signed the contract, the House approved as part of its rules for the 113th Congress language giving authority for the House Republican-led Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group to defend DOMA in court. The cost cap was raised almost one month after the Supreme Court agreed to take up litigation challenging DOMA, known as Windsor v. United States.

The new agreement means that a cost cap initially set at $500,000 has been raised to $1.5 million, again to $2 million and now most recently to $3 million. Like the previous agreements, the contract states the cost cap may yet again be raised if the parties involved agree to a higher amount in another written contract.

But there’s new language in the contract putting a time limit on the services rendered by Clement; it’ll terminate when litigation is complete or at noon on Jan. 3, 2015 — whichever comes first. The contract also allows for an extension of time limit for parties involved. However, this time limit is almost certainly beyond the time the Supreme Court would reach a decision on DOMA before the end of its term in June.

House Republicans elected to take up defense of DOMA in court in March 2011 after the Obama administration announced it would no longer defend the statute. House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) directed House general counsel to defend the anti-gay law after a party-line vote approving the decision to do so on the five-member House Republican-led Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group.

It’s not the first time that Democrats have accused Republicans of agreeing to raise the cost cap of DOMA in secret. The previous contract that raised the cost cap to $2 million was signed in September, but House Democrats said they didn’t obtain a copy until last month.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), the two “no” votes on BLAG, responded to news that the cost cap to defend DOMA was yet again raised and raised in secret with consternation.

In a letter to Boehner dated Jan. 15, they jointly renew their call on House Republicans to discontinue defense of DOMA — but also made a new call for Republicans to demonstrate their defense of DOMA more transparently — calling the actions a “clandestine commitment of taxpayer funds” as well as “highly irregular and objectionable.”

“Until Republicans decide to abandon this effort once and for all, we ask you to make your legal plans clear; to make public every contract signed with outside counsel in this case in a timely manner; to declare the total cost of this case to the taxpayers; and to abide by the highest standards of transparency and accountability,” Pelosi and Hoyer wrote.

Pelosi and Hoyer emphasize the House defense of DOMA doesn’t “reflect the will of the House or the consensus of the BLAG.” House Democrats have been filing friend-of-the-court briefs against DOMA before the appellate courts considering the constitutionality of the anti-gay law.

A spokesperson for Boehner deferred questions to the House Committee on Administration, which didn’t immediately respond to a request to comment. It’s the first time over the course House Republican defense of DOMA that Boehner’s has deferred comment and provided a response or simply decline to answer.

Last month, Boehner told the Washington Blade during a news conference when asked he whether supports raising the cost cap to defend DOMA, “If the Justice Department is not going to enforce the law of the land, the Congress will.”

———————–

Below is the full text of the letter from Pelosi and Hoyer:

January 15, 2013
The Honorable John Boehner
Speaker
United States House of Representatives
Washington, D.C.  20515

Dear Speaker Boehner:

As the two Democratic Members of the Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group (BLAG), we wish to strongly reaffirm our objections to the repeated actions by the Republican leadership to secretly and dramatically increase the contract between the House and outside counsel in arguing to uphold the discriminatory Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) in more than a dozen cases. This is not the first time that House Republicans have made a unilateral decision to raise the ceiling on expenditures for this wasteful litigation that supports a discriminatory statute, without any public discussion or advance notice to Democratic members of the BLAG, Members of the House, or the public. This clandestine commitment of taxpayer funds is highly irregular and objectionable, and it must end now.

Let us be clear: these steps do not reflect the will of the House or the consensus of the BLAG. Democrats do not support any decisions to invest taxpayer funds in defense of an indefensible law. We remain united in our opposition to any effort to preserve, protect, and defend discrimination in our country.

From the start, the Republican-led campaign to defend DOMA has been a practice in futility and a waste of Americans’ hard-earned tax dollars. The Republican-appointed, taxpayer-funded legal team has lost in every case. Courts across the nation have stood on the side of justice and equality for all Americans. DOMA is on its way into the dustbin of history.

It would be bad enough if Republicans were losing in court and accepting the result. Yet it is the height of hypocrisy for House Republicans to waste public funds in one breath then claim the mantle of fiscal responsibility in the next. With Republicans willing to take our economy and our country to the brink of default in the name of deficit reduction, there is simply no excuse for any Member of Congress to commit taxpayer dollars to an unnecessary – and futile – legal battle.

Until Republicans decide to abandon this effort once and for all, we ask you to make your legal plans clear; to make public every contract signed with outside counsel in this case in a timely manner; to declare the total cost of this case to the taxpayers; and to abide by the highest standards of transparency and accountability.

The Defense of Marriage Act now sits before the Supreme Court. We believe it is only a matter of time before this offensive law is a discarded relic of a bygone era. We look forward to the day when this measure is declared unconstitutional by the highest court in the land and when all of America’s families can know the blessings of equal protection under the law.

Thank you for your attention to this matter.

best regards,

NANCY PELOSI
Democratic Leader

STENY H. HOYER
Democratic Whip

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5 Comments

5 Comments

  1. Julio Enrique

    January 15, 2013 at 5:48 pm

    Well, money speaks again, n ancient tongues of those rigid Repubs.

  2. Dennis Velco

    January 16, 2013 at 1:38 am

    Thanks for this article and your reporting. What you do is appreciated.

    I posted it to my LGBT Group on LinkedIn with over 17,000 global members to spur members to read your article and to make comment. I also scooped it at Scoop.It on my LGBT Times news mashup.

    Link to group >> http://www.linkedin.com/groups/LGBT-Gay-GLBT-Professional-Network-63687/about.

    All LGBT+ and community allies…. please come join me and 17,000+ of your soon to be great connections on LinkedIn. The member base represents 80% of the world's countries.

    It's core value is – Visibility can lead to awareness which can lead to equality. Come stand with us and increase our visibility on the globe's largest professional networking site. Be a professional who just happens to be LGBT – or a welcomed community ally.

  3. Alexis Kirtland

    January 17, 2013 at 12:51 am

    Boehner: keep spending your millions against LGBT individuals. No dollar amount will change the view of today's youth—America's future.

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Utah

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

Data finds state has 2nd highest support for LGBTQ rights

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(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

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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

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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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