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Congress

Romney tells Santos, ‘You don’t belong here’

Utah Republican confronted embattled congressman before State of the Union

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U.S. Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) attends the State of the Union on Tuesday, Feb. 7. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

U.S. Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) told embattled U.S. Rep. George Santos (R-N.Y.) “you don’t belong here” in Congress when the two bumped into each other Tuesday night during President Joe Biden’s State of the Union address.

Romney later told reporters he was struck by Santos’ shamelessness as he watched the beleaguered freshman congressman “trying to shake hands with every senator and the president of the United States.”

Santos should instead have been “sitting in the back row and staying quiet,” particularly given the House Ethics Committee probe into his alleged financial crimes, Romney said.

Also on Tuesday, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) told CNN that “ethics is moving through, and if ethics finds something, we’ll take action,” in response to a question about calls for Santos’ resignation.

The congressman has dominated headlines since his arrival to Washington, around which time it was revealed that he had made up virtually every element of his biography and identity.

“Look, embellishing is saying you got an A when you got an A-minus,” Romney said. “Lying is saying you graduated from a college you didn’t even attend,” as Santos did, falsely claiming to have graduated from Baruch College with a stint on the university’s volleyball team.

“And he shouldn’t be in Congress,” Romney continued. “And they’re going to go through the process and hopefully get him out. But he shouldn’t be there and if he had any shame at all, he wouldn’t be there.”

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Congress

Marjorie Taylor Greene targets Rachel Levine with transphobic insults

Ga. Republican has long history of attacking health official

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Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

In an X post on Feb. 17, U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) lobbed transphobic insults at Adm. Rachel Levine, assistant secretary for health at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the highest ranking transgender government official.

The congresswoman was responding to a video posted by Levine on X, which highlighted the disproportionate harms wrought by climate change on “the physical and mental health of Black communities” along with HHS’s work addressing these issues.

“Here is a man pretending to be a woman claiming the climate is hurting Black Americans more than others” Greene wrote in her post. “This is the Democrat Party. Mental illness on full display.”

The congresswoman has repeatedly targeted Levine, largely over her support for gender-affirming care — medically necessary, evidence-based interventions that are governed by clinical practice guidelines and endorsed by every mainstream scientific and medical society in the world.

Greene’s post on Feb. 17 was not the first time she crossed the line into rank anti-LGBTQ bigotry, however.

Speaking from the House floor in November, Greene misgendered and dead-named the health official while introducing an amendment to “reduce — no, castrate” her government salary to $1.

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Congress

House members raise objections to anti-LGBTQ guest chaplain

26 Democratic members signed the letter

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Anti-LGBTQ+ Christian nationalist minister Jack Hibbs (left) with right-wing pundit Charlie Kirk. (Screenshot/YouTube Charlie Kirk podcast)

A group of 26 House Democrats sent a letter on Thursday to Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) and Rev. Dr. Margaret Grun Kibben, the House chaplain, raising objections to Johnson’s sponsorship of anti-LGBTQ pastor Jack Gibbs as the lower chamber’s guest chaplain.

“Hibbs is a radical Christian Nationalist who helped fuel the January 6th insurrection and has a long record of spewing hateful vitriol toward non-Christians, immigrants, and members of the LGBTQ community,” the lawmakers wrote.

The letter asks Johnson and Kibben for an explanation of “the process by which Pastor Hibbs was recommended, vetted, and approved,” along with answers to other questions raised by the members.

A nationally syndicated TV and radio host, Hibbs is the senior and founding pastor of Calvary Chapel Chino Hills in Chino, California, a city located in the western end of San Bernadino County. On its website, the church claims that more than 10,000 adult congregants attend its Sunday service each week.

Among the letter’s signatories were the out chair and three vice chairs of the Congressional Equality Caucus, U.S. Reps. Mark Pocan (Wis.), Robert Garcia (Calif.), Mark Takano (Calif.), and Becca Balint (Vt.).

The members argued portions of the opening prayer delivered by Hibbs on the House floor on Jan. 30, 2024 that concerned “holy fear” and a call for “repentance” for “national sins” were references to his anti-LGBTQ theology that also maligns Jews, Muslims, and those who do not share his Christian nationalist worldview.

The letter chronicles evidence of Hibbs’ extreme statements and positions, among them:

  • Last year, Hibbs launched a campaign that would require schools to forcibly out transgender students, and a month later published a video on his YouTube channel in which he called transgender people a “sexually perverted cult” in “violation of the word and will of God” who are enacting Satan’s “anti-God, anti-Christian plan.”
  • Hibbs characterized same-sex marriage as the crucifixion of God’s word, during remarks to his congregation following the U.S. Supreme Court’s recognition of the nationwide constitutional right to marriage equality in 2015.
  • During public remarks in 2021 and 2022, Hibbs argued that homosexuality and the acceptance of LGBTQ people is evidence that “humanity is living in the ‘last days.'” He has supported conversion therapy and rallied opposition to a California law targeting anti-LGBTQ bullying in schools.
  • Preaching that God was backing the Trump administration, Hibbs attended the rally on the Ellipse that preceded the violent siege of the U.S. Capitol Building on January 6 and subsequently defended the rioters during a radio interview.

The lawmakers also cited procedural objections to Johnson’s selection of Hibbs as a guest chaplain, writing: “Hibbs is not from the district of Speaker Johnson (i.e. the sponsoring member), Speaker Johnson did not deliver a welcoming speech, the prayer was not delivered on the last legislative day of the week, and Hibbs was Speaker Johnson’s second sponsored Guest Chaplain in the span of just a couple months, even though Members are limited to one request per Congress.”

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LGBTQ groups drop opposition to Kids Online Safety Act

The bill is now backed by more than 60 senators

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U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Following changes spearheaded by one of the bill’s sponsors, U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), a coalition of seven LGBTQ advocacy groups dropped their opposition to the Kids Online Safety Act.

“We would like to thank you for hearing our concerns about the Kids Online Safety Act (KOSA) and updating the legislation to address potential adverse consequences for LGBTQ+ youth,” the organizations said in a letter to Blumenthal’s office on Thursday.

GLAAD, GLSEN, Human Rights Campaign, PFLAG National, National Center for Lesbian Rights, National Center for Transgender Equality and the Trevor Project were the signatories.

KOSA would be the strongest piece of big tech regulation passed in decades, imposing a duty of care for social media companies to prevent their products from harming children along with guardrails around their use of features that could worsen depression, bullying, sexual exploitation, eating disorders and other harms.

Prior to the latest iteration, however, advocates warned the duty of care, coupled with the deputization of enforcement powers to state attorneys general, might facilitate abuses like the suppression of affirming online content sought by LGBTQ youth.

However, “under the new bill text, the duty of care is clarified to focus specifically on the product design features and components that are used to keep kids hooked on their platforms, often to the detriment of the mental health and wellbeing of kids,” a spokesperson for Blumenthal’s office told the Washington Blade.

This applies to “the business model and practices of social media companies, rather than the content that is hosted on their platforms,” they said, covering “features like personalized recommendation systems, nudges, and appearance altering filters” that have been shown to harm young people.

Additionally, enforcement is now under the purview of the U.S. Federal Trade Commission, a change that the spokesperson said will ensure “that there is a uniform standard in the enforcement of the provision, rather than differing interpretations for each state.”

The LGBTQ groups wrote that these changes to KOSA collectively “mitigate the risk of it being misused to suppress LGBTQ+ resources or stifle young people’s access to online communities,” and therefore “if this draft of the bill moves forward, our organizations will not oppose its passage.”

The legislation appears poised to do exactly that. Blumenthal’s office issued a press release on Thursday announcing the new bill had earned the support of an additional 12 U.S. senators: Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), Susan Collins (R-Maine), Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), Mitt Romney (R-Utah), Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), J.D. Vance (R-Ohio), Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), Tommy Tuberville (R-Ala.), Laphonza Butler (D-Calif.), Thom Tillis (R-N.C.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Angus King (I-Maine), Ted Cruz (R-Texas), Jack Reed (D-R.I.) and Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.).

With more than 60 cosponsors, KOSA is on track to pass in the Senate but faces an uncertain future in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Bipartisan momentum to pass the bill, along with other proposed regulations aimed at dominant tech platform companies, reached a fever pitch during the Senate Judiciary Committee’s blockbuster hearing on Big Tech and the Online Child Sexual Exploitation Crisis on Jan. 31.

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