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Tensions high as Senate panel considers immigration reform

Some advocates pessimistic about gay-inclusive bill

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Patrick Leahy, United States Senate, Democratic Party, Vermont, gay news, Washington Blade
Advocates are looking to Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) to amend the immigration bill with UAFA. (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Advocates are looking to Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) to amend the immigration bill with UAFA. (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Tensions were high as observers waited to see on Tuesday whether Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) would introduce amendments before a Senate committee to include bi-national same-sex couples as part of comprehensive immigration reform. The committee is expected to wrap consideration of the measure by 10 p.m. Tuesday. The Washington Blade will update this post as developments warrant.

Leahy is facing pressure to withhold the amendments from Senate Republicans who say their introduction will kill the larger package and, according to recent media reports, from other Senate Democrats as well as the White House.

Both amendments were already filed by Leahy. One mirrors the Uniting American Families Act, which would enable gay Americans to sponsor their foreign partners for residency in the United States. The other would allow for the approval of marriage-based green card applications for married same-sex couples.

At the start of Tuesday, many advocates were pessimistic about the chances of the amendments passing in the wake of comments from Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), who said he won’t commit to supporting the amendments. His vote is necessary for unanimous support among Democrats and a majority vote in committee.

Steve Ralls, a spokesperson for the LGBT group Immigration Equality, said blame will be shared on both sides of the aisle if the committee doesn’t amend the immigration bill to include protections for gay couples.

“If the amendments are not offered for a vote, there will be bipartisan blame: On Senators Lindsey Graham, John McCain and Jeff Flake for making threats and bullying colleagues to abandon our families; and on Senator Schumer, for refusing to stand up, in the face of that bullying, for his own constituents who desperately need him to cast his vote in their favor,” Ralls said.

Lavi Soloway, a gay immigration attorney and founder of The DOMA Project, was anticipating defeat and criticized Schumer as well as Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), who only supports the DOMA carve-out amendment, for what he said was “betrayal” over not providing full support to the LGBT community.

“This was the moment that required courage and leadership,” Soloway writes. “The most vulnerable members of our community relied on Senator Schumer and Senator Feinstein to stand up for us and end decades of catastrophic and irreparable harm to our families caused by DOMA and our exclusion from U.S. immigration law.”

Leahy hasn’t committed to offering the amendments before the committee, although he has promoted their inclusion in immigration reform. A Senate aide said if they were to come up, they’d likely be the last piece of businesses for the final committee vote on reporting out the legislation to the Senate floor.

Adding to the tension was an Associated Press report saying that the White House had asked Leahy to hold off on introduction of the amendments until the legislation reaches the Senate floor. Passage on the floor would be more difficult than in committee and the amendments are unlikely to succeed there.

After the the daily briefing on Tuesday, the Blade shouted a question to White House Press Secretary Jay Carney to verify the accuracy of the report. Carney offered no response.

A Senate Judiciary committee aide also wouldn’t verify the accuracy of the Associated Press article.

“The chairman speaks to the president often but he does not discuss what they speak about in any given week,” the aide said.

The AP report comes of the heels of another report from Politico saying key Democrats on the panel asked the White House to intercede to persuade Leahy to hold off on introducing the amendments. The Vermont Democrat is quoted in the article as saying the issue didn’t come up in his discussion with the White House.

Ralls said the AP report indicates a lack of support and all parties who support LGBT rights should also advocate on behalf of the Leahy amendments.

“There is no pro-LGBT position to take in this debate other than full support for the chairman’s amendments,” Ralls said. “That’s what we expect from the White House, and every senator who has proclaimed their support for the repeal of DOMA and the equal treatment of our families under the law. You can’t say you support equality, and then work to delay or derail it.”

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Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney introduces bill to make monkeypox testing free

Health insurers would be required to cover costs

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Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney has introduced legislation to make monkeypox testing free to the public. (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (D-N.Y.), amid the ongoing monkeypox affecting gay and bisexual men, has introduced legislation in the U.S. House seeking to make testing for disease free to the public.

Maloney, one of seven openly gay members of Congress and chair of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, said in a statement the measure, called the No Cost for Monkeypox Testing Act, would testing amid the monkeypox outbreak would be accessible to all.

“It is critical that we eliminate cost as a barrier to testing for monkeypox to ensure we can identify cases and prevent further spread,” Maloney said. “This legislation takes the lessons we learned from past public health emergencies and protects those at risk of contracting monkeypox by making tests accessible to everyone.”

The legislation would require private health insurers as well as Medicare and Medicaid to cover the costs of monkeypox testing at no expense to the patients, either through deductibles, co-payments, and co-insurance.

The bill introduction comes the week after the Biden administration declared the monkeypox outbreak a public health emergency and the same it has issued new guidance to enhance to the accessing of existing vaccines doses amid criticism federal officials were too slow in distributing shots.

The Washington Blade has placed a request in with the Centers for Disease Control seeking comment on the legislation. Secretary of Health & Human Services Xavier Becerra said Tuesday the federal government has the capacity to conduct an estimated 80,000 tests each week.

Maloney has been representing New York’s 18th congressional district, but after redistricting is now seeking re-election in the 17th district. Amid controversy over a potential showdown between Maloney and Rep. Mondaire Jones (D-N.Y.), who’s Black, another openly gay member of Congress and the current representative of that district, Jones has since opted to run for re-election in the New York’s 10th congressional district. Maloney is now running unopposed in the 17th.

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Politics

Out Vermont state senator wins Democratic primary race

Tuesday’s victory makes her likely to become the first woman and openly LGBTQ+ person to represent the heavily Democratic state in Congress

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Screenshot via Becca Balint for Congress

The Green Mountain State’s state Senate president pro tempore has won the Democratic nomination for the state’s at-large congressional seat, the state’s lone seat in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Becca Balin is running to succeed U.S. Rep. Peter Welch and Tuesday’s victory makes her likely to become the first woman and openly LGBTQ+ person to represent the heavily Democratic state in Congress if elected in November. Vermont is the only state that has never had a female member of its congressional delegation.

The VTDigger, a statewide news website, reported; “Balint, 53, is the first openly gay woman elected to the Vermont Senate and the first woman to serve as its president. The former middle school teacher and stay-at-home mother won her first political contest in a race for her southeastern Vermont Senate seat in 2014

She rose quickly through the ranks of the Democrat-controlled chamber, becoming majority leader in 2017, at the start of her second term. Four years later, in 2021, she was elected pro tem — the top position in the Senate.”

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Lindsey Graham: Same-sex marriage should be left to the states

Republican senator says issue a distraction from inflation

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Sen. Lindsey Graham said he still thinks the issue of same-sex marriage should be left to the states. (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), seven years after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of same-sex marriage nationwide, said Sunday he still thinks the issue of gay nuptials should be left to the states.

Graham made the remarks during an interview with CNN’s Dana Bash in a rare televised bipartisan debate with Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) as the Senate was in the middle of voting on amendments for the Inflation Reduction Act.

When discussing the 6-3 conservative majority of the Supreme Court, Graham said consistent with the recent decision overturning Roe v. Wade justices could overturn other precedents, such as the 2015 decision in Obergefell v. Hodges in favor of same-sex marriage.

Asked point blank if he was saying it should be overturned, Graham said “no, I’m saying that I don’t think it’s going to be overturned.” Graham, however, had an infection his voice, suggesting same-sex marriage could be undone.

“Nor should it be?” asked Bash.

“Well, that would be up to the court,” he responded, then added: “I think states should decide the issue of marriage, and states should be decide the issue of abortion.”

When Bash brought up another case, Loving v. Virginia, the 1965 case that overturned states bans on interracial marriage, and asked if that should be revisited as well, Graham replied, “no.”

Graham quickly moved on to tamp down any expectation the would address the issue of same-sex marriage, saying fears the court would revisit the issue are unfounded and meant as a distraction from issues such as inflation.

“But if you’re going to ask me to have the federal government take over defining marriage, I’m going to say no,” Graham added.

Graham’s remarks are consistent with what he told the Washington Blade in 2015 when asked about same-sex marriage as the issue was being adjudicated by the Supreme Court. However, they contrast to his support for a Federal Marriage Amendment that was pending before Congress during the Bush administration and would have made a ban on same-sex marriage nationwide part of the U.S. Constitution. Graham was not asked about his views on now defunct idea of an amendment during the CNN interview.

h/t The Independent

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