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Congress

House Republicans attach anti-LGBTQ provisions to appropriations bills

Four Dems speak out against these efforts to the Blade

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

A contingent of some of the most conservative Republican members of the U.S. House have held up federal appropriations bills this week by demanding concessions including increasingly extreme anti-LGBTQ provisions.

“Every single one of the bills, in order to appeal to the fringes of their caucus, they put all kinds of anti LGBTQI riders,” U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan told the Washington Blade by phone just before joining an Appropriations Committee markup on Wednesday.

It is “the extreme elements of the Republican Party,” or “the fringes” who “care about this stuff,” said the congressman, who chairs the Congressional Equality Caucus.

The riders have been proposed for must-pass spending bills as they move through the appropriations process – in areas from homeland security and defense to agriculture and foreign operations.

“They started out with really the attacks this session on the trans community, specifically gender affirming care, trans girls playing sports, but then, literally, we’ve seen it progress through the appropriations process to suddenly Pride flags are [made into] an issue,” Pocan said.

The GOP’s targeting of the LGBTQ community in the appropriations process also comes by way of the First Amendment Defense Act, proposed legislation that seeks to effectively prohibit the government from responding to anti-LGBTQ discrimination based on one’s belief that marriage is exclusively between a man and a woman.

Pocan said that during a markup of a legislative branch appropriations bill, he told his Republican colleagues that if he were to “God forbid, pass, and my husband wanted to get his benefits that are due to any spouse,” there would be no recourse if those benefits were denied because of one’s opposition to same-sex marriage.

The congressman said he asked whether that would be fair, and “I watched people on the dais mouth ‘no’ and shake their head,” including those members who supported the rider that would enable people to deny those benefits in accordance with their position on marriage equality.

“They understand the real effects, but they don’t care because they need to try to get the certain elements or their caucus to vote for this stuff,” Pocan said. “And, bluntly, I don’t think those elements are gonna vote for this anyway, because they don’t understand how government actually works.”

“They’re not actually doing any policy and appropriations,” Pocan said. “They’re acting like accountants; they’re just cutting [funding] down to ’22 levels, which makes much of what they’re doing largely irrelevant compared to what the Senate will do.”

Some members, including those in the ultraconservative House Freedom Caucus, are dissatisfied with maintaining 2022 spending levels, the congressman noted, “so in the end it may just be abject failure.”

“There’s a very strong possibility that we don’t get these done and we have some kind of a CR,” Pocan said, referring to a temporary spending bill called a continuing resolution that Congress can pass to avoid a government shutdown that would otherwise be triggered by lapses in funding.

Another issue within the Republican conference, Pocan said, are intra-party divisions between, for instance, GOP members who are hawkish on foreign policy and eager to fund U.S. defense initiatives versus “those who just believe that government should be smaller.”

Add the “elements of the caucus that believe in the culture war issues,” the congressman said, “and, you know, it’s kind of like taking the Addams Family and saying, ‘what’s the average person?'”

House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), meanwhile, “hasn’t proven to be much of a leader during this time, either,” Pocan said.

Democrats who serve as the ranking members of three subcommittees of the U.S. House Committee on Appropriations also denounced efforts by their GOP colleagues to attach anti-LGBTQ riders to their must-pass spending bills in emailed statements to the Blade. All are vice chairs of the Equality Caucus.

“The legislation coming before us is jammed with extremist attacks that undermine our LGBTQI+ servicemembers, veterans, and their families,” said U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (Fla.), the top Democrat on the Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Subcommittee, which, she noted, “has a longstanding tradition of bipartisanship.”

“Republicans this year,” said the congresswoman, “bent to far-right ideologues, adding provisions to ban gender affirming care, Pride flags, and other initiatives that impact the quality of life of our LGBTQI+ servicemembers.”

Despite the efforts by Republicans who “are dead set on wasting time marking up messaging bills with no chance of becoming law,” Wasserman Schultz promised that “my House Democratic colleagues and I won’t stand idly by as Republicans undermine the service of LGBTQI+ individuals who so bravely defend our nation every day.”

U.S. Rep. Mike Quigley (Ill.) told the Blade, “During recent appropriations meetings, I’ve listened as my colleagues across the aisle insert cruel, dangerous anti-LGBTQI+ provisions into our funding bills on strictly partisan lines.”

“Republicans decided to strip Diversity and Inclusion funding, permit federal employees to discriminate against LGBTQI+ people, and ban medically necessary gender affirming care,” said the congressman, who is ranking member of the Transportation, Housing, and Urban Development Subcommittee.

“This is an outright assault on individuals who are simply asking for basic human rights and to be treated as equals in our country,” Quigley said, adding, “I have and will continue to fight back against these attacks” because “allowing these provisions to become law would tell the LGBTQI+ community that their existence is wrong – we will never let that happen.”

“LGBTQI+ people matter and our laws must reflect that truth,” said the congressman.

“House Republicans are using the FY24 Appropriations process as an opportunity to attack the rights of women, minorities, and members of the LGBTQ+ community,” said U.S. Rep. Barbara Lee (Calif.), ranking member of the Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs.

“Their Appropriations bills would eliminate funding from diversity, equity, and inclusion programs, attack the LGBTQ+ community through banning Pride flags at Veterans Affairs facilities and military bases, undermine key programs to address the climate crisis, and much more,” said the congresswoman, who was a founding member of the Equality Caucus.

“Their efforts to disenfranchise our courageous servicemembers strictly based on how they identify or who they love is despicable,” she added.

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Congress

Shutdown averted with bipartisan bill over objections of far-right House caucus

45-day continuing resolution passed 335-91.

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U.S. House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) (Screen capture/PBS News)

The U.S. House on Saturday approved a 45-day continuing resolution that, should the Senate approve the stopgap measure, as expected, will avert a government shutdown.

In a stunning turn of events, a coalition of Republicans and Democrats backed the proposal, H.R. 5860 advanced by House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), which was passed with a vote of 335-91.

Ninety Republicans and one Democrat voted against the continuing resolution which, in addition to funding U.S. government agencies through mid-November, will provide billions in disaster relief .

Screenshot/C-SPAN

Democrats agreed to the bill even though it did not contain U.S. aid to Ukraine. Still, the most conservative members of McCarthy’s caucus have warned they would replace their speaker if he cooperated with Democrats on a deal to avoid a shutdown.

In recent weeks, these members advanced far-right anti-LGBTQ amendments to spending packages that stood no chance of becoming law.

The Senate voted 88-9 to pass a “clean” continuing resolution (CR) that funds the government at current levels through Nov. 17 and gives the Biden administration $16 billion it requested to assist victims of natural disasters.

“Bipartisanship, which has been the trademark of the Senate, has prevailed. And the American people can breathe a sigh of relief,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) told reporters.

After the Senate voted late Saturday evening to pass the House stop-gap continuing resolution, the White House released the following statement from President Biden:

“Tonight, bipartisan majorities in the House and Senate voted to keep the government open, preventing an unnecessary crisis that would have inflicted needless pain on millions of hardworking Americans. This bill ensures that active-duty troops will continue to get paid, travelers will be spared airport delays, millions of women and children will continue to have access to vital nutrition assistance, and so much more. This is good news for the American people.

But I want to be clear: we should never have been in this position in the first place. Just a few months ago, Speaker McCarthy and I reached a budget agreement to avoid precisely this type of manufactured crisis. For weeks, extreme House Republicans tried to walk away from that deal by demanding drastic cuts that would have been devastating for millions of Americans. They failed.

While the Speaker and the overwhelming majority of Congress have been steadfast in their support for Ukraine, there is no new funding in this agreement to continue that support. We cannot under any circumstances allow American support for Ukraine to be interrupted. I fully expect the Speaker will keep his commitment to the people of Ukraine and secure passage of the support needed to help Ukraine at this critical moment.”

Biden is expected to sign the measure once it is delivered to the White House before the midnight deadline.

UPDATED:

On Saturday, September 30, 2023, the President signed into law:
 
H.R. 5860, which provides fiscal year appropriations to Federal agencies through November 17, 2023, for continuing projects of the Federal Government and extends several expiring authorities.

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Congress

McCarthy dealt another blow by far-right members seeking to replace him

Rep. Emmer denies he’s interested in becoming next Speaker

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Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

After joining with the Democrats on Friday to sabotage House Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s (Calif.) plan to forestall a government shutdown with a last-ditch spending package, a group of far-right members are now focused on replacing him.

The stop-gap funding bill was defeated 232-198 with more than 20 Republicans voting against the measure.

House GOP sources tell the Washington Blade that removing McCarthy from the speaker’s chair is now a top priority, along with resisting pressure from Senate Republicans seeking to broker a deal to avoid allowing funding to lapse.

These sources confirmed reporting in the Washington Post about discussions of tapping U.S. Rep. Tom Emmer (Minn.) to become the chamber’s top Republican, though the congressman told CBS Minnesota/WCCO News, “I fully support Speaker McCarthy. He knows that and I know that. I have zero interest in palace intrigue. End of discussion.”

While Emmer was among the 39 House Republicans who voted with the Democrats in support of the Respect for Marriage Act, which protects the rights of couples in same-sex marriages, in April he was among the more vocal members pushing for a federal ban to prohibit transgender women and girls from competing on sports teams consistent with their gender identity.

In January, McCarthy narrowly secured his bid for the speakership after an unprecedented 15 votes from his caucus. Many of the same members now calling for his replacement demanded concessions, including conditioning their votes on McCarthy’s agreement to allow any member to call for a motion to vacate the chair at any time.

During the votes, which were held over a period of five days, other members like U.S. Rep. Byron Donalds (R-Fla.) were nominated for the position.

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Congress

House passes Boebert’s amendment targeting LGBTQ workers at USDA

Democrats call measure ‘blatantly homophobic’

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U.S. Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.) (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

House Republicans on Wednesday pushed through a proposal by U.S. Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.) that would prohibit the U.S. Department of Agriculture from using federally appropriated funds for materials supporting the agency’s LGBTQ employees.

Passing by just three votes in the face of unified opposition from Democrats, along with one GOP member, U.S. Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (Pa.), the measure will never be signed into law amid Democratic control of the Senate and White House.

For weeks, Boebert and her ideological allies in the lower chamber have dashed hopes of forestalling a government shutdown by insisting on ladening must-pass spending bills with far-right demands, often targeting the LGBTQ community and initiatives promoting diversity, equity, and inclusion.

Even so, the aim and scope of the Colorado congresswoman’s amendment to the agriculture appropriations bill was striking.

Among the 17 types of “courses, books, or study guides” circumscribed in the measure are those concerning “approaching LGBT issues in the workplace,” “understanding and supporting LGBTQ+ employees,” “becoming an ally to all,” “conversations with LGBTQ+ leaders on the power of identity,” and “creating an inclusive work community” for transgender employees.

Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Spokesperson Viet Shelton condemned House Republicans’ passage of the amendment in a statement shared with the Washington Blade:

“In a clear indication that so-called moderate Republicans are now completely controlled by their extreme fringes, they are now passing such blatantly homophobic legislation that mandates federal employees be discriminated against in the workplace,” he said. “Their focus on these hateful policies while ignoring middle class families struggling with rising costs is why they will lose their majority in Congress next year.”

The USDA did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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