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Congress

McCarthy suffers humiliating losses in bid for House speakership

19 Republicans decline to support longtime party leader

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Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) at U.S. House speakership vote on Jan. 3 2023 (Screen shot via CSPAN)

(UPDATE 4:45 p.m.: Kevin McCarthy lost his bid for House Speaker in second- and third-round voting Tuesday afternoon. Further rounds of voting are expected to continue late into the night.)

Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives declined to elect Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) as House Speaker for the 118th Congress during a decisive floor vote on Tuesday afternoon.

Nineteen GOP members declined to cast their ballots for McCarthy, who could only lose four votes from the Republican caucus given the party’s slim majority control of the House.

McCarthy’s loss, which marks the first time since 1923 in which a speaker had not been seated after the first vote, means additional floor votes will be necessary to determine who will hold the gavel for the Republican House majority.

The delays may prove costly, because without a speaker, the House is unable to adopt rules, make committee assignments, or move on any legislation. It was only after nine ballots over the course of two months that a speaker was seated in 1923.

Leading up to Tuesday’s vote, as many as 20 GOP members had not publicly endorsed McCarthy. Among those were five members who were staunchly opposed – all belonging to the ultraconservative House Freedom Caucus, including Rep. Andy Biggs of Arizona, who challenged McCarthy for the Speaker’s gavel on the floor Tuesday.

Biggs ultimately won 10 GOP votes, with others casting their ballots for Republican Reps. Jim Jordan (Ohio), Jim Banks (Ind.), Byron Donalds (Fla.), and Lee Zeldin (R-Ny.).

Other members of the Republican caucus who were less calcified in their opposition to McCarthy had conditioned their support on winning concessions, from promises regarding membership on standing committees to procedural agreements that would limit the power of the speakership.

Most important was a compromise struck ahead of the vote that would have allowed five members to file for a motion to vacate the speakership at any time, bringing back a House rule that cost John Boehner his speakership in 2015.

McCarthy served as House Majority Leader from 2014 to 2019 under Speakers Boehner and Paul Ryan, who both lost their gavels because of their resistance to the demands of the Freedom Caucus.

By contrast, McCarthy has embraced the most conservative members of the GOP caucus, earning support from the likes of Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (Ga.).

According to media reports, in a closed-door meeting with Republican members on Tuesday morning that preceded the floor vote, McCarthy delivered a defiant speech in which he refused to make additional concessions to the ultraconservative holdouts and told his colleagues, “I earned this job.”

Representative Lauren Boebert (Colo.) reportedly shouted, “Bullshit!”

Speaking with reporters after the closed-door meeting, Greene admonished the members of her caucus who opposed McCarthy’s speakership.

During the meeting, she said, “we found out that there were several members – three, in fact – that went in last night and were demanding positions for themselves. Demanding gavel positions, demanding subcommittees, demanding for people to be taken off committees for people to be put on committees.”

Greene noted that she had not conditioned her support for McCarthy on winning any concessions for herself, despite having been stripped of her committee assignments in 2021. “This is about electing someone to serve in the speaker’s chair so that we can get to work,” she said.

The congresswoman added that “the conservatives who our base believes in, let me remind everyone: They’re not perfect either. Scott Perry [Pa.], before his general election, refused to vote against the gay marriage bill [the Respect for Marriage Act]…Then, when it came back around after his election, he was able to vote against it. Conservatives would not like that.”

Embattled freshman Republican Rep. George Santos (N.Y.) also cast his vote for McCarthy on Tuesday, having evaded reporters who were gathered this morning in front of his office in the Longworth House building.

A series of news reports over the past few weeks revealed the congressman had lied about nearly every part of his life, education, identity, and career, while his alleged financial malfeasance has triggered investigations by federal and local prosecutors.

The latest news published by The New York Times on Monday was the revival of fraud charges against Santos by authorities in his native Brazil who formally requested that the U.S. Department notify him of the charges.

Rep. George Santos, (R-NY03) Screenshot/C-SPAN
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Congress

House passes spending bill as Greene threatens to oust Johnson

51 of 52 anti-LGBTQ riders were defeated

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Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) speaks at a press conference on Sept. 20. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

The U.S. House of Representatives averted a government shutdown on Friday with a vote of 286-134 to pass the $1.2 trillion spending bill, over the objections of hard-right members like U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.).

The congresswoman subsequently filed a motion to remove House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.), who is himself an ultraconservative legislator. The move marked the second time in six months that the party has called for a vote to oust their own leader.

“Today I filed a motion to vacate after Speaker Johnson has betrayed our conference and broken our rules,” said Greene, who refused to say whether she would call up the resolution to call for a snap vote, which likely means the matter will be delayed until after the two-week recess.

Greene and Johnson are at odds over the content of the minibus appropriations package, with the congresswoman calling it a “Chuck Schumer, Democrat-controlled bill” that does not contain conservative policy demands on matters like immigration and LGBTQ issues.

The speaker, meanwhile, proclaimed, “House Republicans achieved conservative policy wins, rejected extreme Democrat proposals, and imposed substantial cuts while significantly strengthening national defense.”

With respect to anti-LGBTQ riders submitted by Republican members, more than 50 were ultimately stripped from the bill, which the Human Rights Campaign celebrated as “a victory,” crediting lawmakers for their “bipartisan, bicameral negotiations.”

Of the 52 anti-LGBTQ riders, only one survived in the $1.2 trillion package passed on Friday: A ban on flying Pride flags at U.S. embassies.

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Congress

Massive defeat for anti-trans, anti-LGBTQ riders in spending bill

Proposal has only one rider that would target community

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

On Thursday, Congress unveiled the much-anticipated spending bill to avert a government shutdown. The bill, which includes funding for major government departments such as Health and Human Services and Education, featured fierce negotiations over conservative “policy riders.” 

These policy riders included bans on coverage for gender-affirming care, DEI bans, sports bans and more. Despite some indications that Democrats might compromise due to the sheer number of conservative policy riders, it appears those fears did not come to fruition. Democrats held firm in negotiations, and the most impactful anti-trans and anti-LGBTQ riders were nowhere to be found.

One policy rider proposed for the Food and Drug Administration would have defunded any hospital that “distributes, sells or otherwise uses drugs that disrupt the onset of puberty or sexual development for those under 18,” a measure targeting not only transgender youth but also those experiencing precocious puberty. 

Another rider sought to bar any government funding toward “surgical procedures or hormone therapy for the purposes of gender-affirming care” in the Department of Health and Human Services. This move would have significantly impacted private and subsidized insurance in the Healthcare Marketplace. It also aimed to bar the enforcement of President Joe Biden’s executive order titled “Preventing and Combating Discrimination on the Basis of Gender Identity,” which broadened anti-discrimination protections for trans individuals.

Additional riders included bans on funding for any organization that “promotes transgenderism,” Title IX protections for trans youth, bans on legal challenges against states over anti-LGBTQ+ laws, book bans, DEI bans and more.

In total, over 40 riders were proposed and negotiated in the spending bills. None of these were found in the final bill.

Ultimately, the final spending bill released contained only a single anti-LGBTQ rider: A ban on Pride flags being raised or displayed above foreign embassies. The policy, while certainly qualifying as anti-LGBTQ and a regression to Trump-era policies, notably does not bar personal displays of Pride flags by embassy workers.

In the past, some embassies have gotten around such bans by not “flying a flag over the embassy” but rather, painting portions of the embassy in rainbow colors or draping flags on the side of buildings.

News of the defeat of the most impactful anti-trans and anti-LGBTQ riders comes after a significant push from Equality Caucus Democrats and the Biden administration against the riders. “As you negotiate government funding for Fiscal Year 2024 (FY24), we write to strongly urge you to reject any attempts to include anti-LGBTQ+ provisions in any final FY24 funding agreement,” said a letter signed by 163 representatives on behalf of the Congressional Equality Caucus to the Biden administration.

However, Republicans also pushed hard for their inclusion. In a shutdown threat issued Feb. 21 from the House Freedom Caucus, Republicans indicated that bans on gender affirming care and trans participation in sports were necessary to prevent a potential shutdown.

Previously, U.S. Dan Crenshaw (R-Texas) stated that such bans are the “hill we will die on.” In a report published by Axios, one Republican lawmaker stated, “People are predicting a shutdown even if it’s just for a few days.” Others concurred, citing gender affirming care riders as one of the potential reasons for such a shutdown.

Many anti-LGBTQ leaders in the Republican Party reacted negatively to the bill. U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) expressed anger at funding for the New Jersey Garden State Equality in Education Fund, calling it “force feeding the LGBT agenda in schools” and stating that it enables “gender mutilation surgeries in minors,” “biological men” in women’s bathrooms and trans participation in sports.

U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) decried the lack of a DEI ban. U.S. Rep. Andrew Clyde (R-Ga.) stated that Republicans “surrendered” to Democrats on hormone therapy. The House Freedom Caucus published a lengthy list of healthcare and equality centers that the budget would fund, urging the GOP to vote “no” and to shut down the government.

In a press release published by House Appropriations Democrats, they stated that the bill rejected over a hundred poison-pill riders, many of which targeted LGBTQ people. For example, the Labor-HHS-Education portion of the bill blocked provisions around gender affirming care, sports bans and nondiscrimination.

See the House Appropriations Democrats statement:

Press release, House Appropriations Democrats on Labor-HHS-Education

The bill must pass by Friday evening to avert a government shutdown, though the impacts of such a shutdown would likely not be felt until Monday. If passed, the bill would keep the government funded through September, at which point all of the riders could resurface during the peak of the 2024 presidential election.

However, for the next several months, LGBTQ riders will not pose a significant threat in a year where trans and queer individuals have faced attacks at historic levels.

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Erin Reed is a transgender woman (she/her pronouns) and researcher who tracks anti-LGBTQ+ legislation around the world and helps people become better advocates for their queer family, friends, colleagues, and community. Reed also is a social media consultant and public speaker.

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The preceding article was first published at Erin In The Morning and is republished with permission.

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Congress

Padilla, FCC introduce measure to improve 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline

HHS launched effort in 2022

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U.S. Sen. Alex Padilla (D-Calif.) (Screen capture: YouTube)

U.S. Sens. Alex Padilla (D-Calif.) and Thom Tillis (R-N.C.), joined by U.S. Rep. Tony Cárdenas (D-Calif.), Federal Communications Commission Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel and U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Xavier Becerra, introduced a measure on Thursday to improve the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline.

Calls are currently routed to mental health professionals and local public safety officials based on the caller’s area code — even though, as the lawmakers and officials noted during their announcement — in many cases, the area code, especially for cell phone numbers, does not match the location from which they are calling.

Under the new proposal, Padilla said, “We’re going to be in a position to be able to provide care as quickly and as safely as possible.”

“In the same way that 911 calls in the case of an emergency are routed to local providers, local first responders, so ambulances can come out and help quickly when you call 911, 988 should be tied to a caller’s location, not their area code,” he said.

Calling Padilla, Tillis, and Cárdenas “great champions of mental health,” Rosenworcel noted, “that’s not our stock and trade” at the FCC.

“We are people who deal with technology and communications,” she said, “but we came to realize that we could work with Congress to make sure that everyone in this country who’s going through a crisis has someone to call and someone who can listen — and that’s why in 2022, we set up 988, the easy-to-remember three digit number for anyone who is in crisis.”

A press release from Padilla’s office explains the details for how the update to the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline will work:

“The Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) announced today seeks to address the discrepancies and inefficiencies of the current system by proposing the adoption of a rule that would require a georouting solution to be implemented for all wireless calls to the 9-8-8 Lifeline while balancing the privacy needs of individuals in crisis. 

Georouting refers to technical solutions that enable calls to be directed based on the location of the caller without transmitting the caller’s precise location information. These solutions would permit wireless calls to the 9-8-8 Lifeline to be directed to nearby crisis centers based on factors such as the cell tower that originated the call rather than the area code of the wireless device used to place the call.”

The 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline offers LGBTQ-affirming counseling, which is accessible by pressing three.

A 2023 survey by the Trevor Project, which included more than 28,000 LGBTQ participants aged 13-24, found that 41 percent had seriously considered suicide within the past year and 56 percent wanted — but were unable to get — mental health care within the last year.

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