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Freedom Caucus threatens government shutdown over ‘woke’ military policies

GOP members proposed anti-LGBTQ amendments to defense spending bills

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U.S. Rep. Scott Perry (R-Pa.), chair of the U.S. House Freedom Caucus, speaking at the 2023 Conservative Political Action Conference (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

The U.S. House Freedom Caucus has raised the specter of a government shutdown by announcing on Monday plans to oppose any stop-gap funding measure that fails to, among other demands, “end the Left’s cancerous woke policies in the Pentagon.”

Conditioning support for a must-pass spending bill on its inclusion of conservative policies that will almost certainly be a non-starter in the Senate, let alone the White House, the caucus’s 45 ultraconservative members have once again created headaches for their House Speaker, U.S. Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.)

The chamber’s top Republican, who is hustling to pass a bill before the end of September to avoid a shutdown, has said he would back a temporary continuing resolution to buy more time for budget talks so long as they do not extend past early December.

Along with combatting the “woke” policies “undermining our military’s core warfighting mission,” the caucus wants to stem the flow of immigrants at the southern border and “address the unprecedented weaponization of the Justice Department and FBI.”

A spokesperson did not respond to a request seeking details about which specific policies at the Pentagon the group finds objectionable, but caucus members in recent months have targeted those impacting the LGBTQ community in amendments to other spending bills.

For example, these House Republicans have sought to block government funding of healthcare services for transgender Americans serving in the U.S. Armed Forces and pushed bans that would prohibit military bases from flying Pride flags and hosting drag shows or other LGBTQ events, such as celebrations honoring Pride month.

Communications staff for the caucus’s chair, communications chair, and policy chair, U.S. Reps. Scott Perry (Pa.), Lauren Boebert (Colo.), and Chip Roy (Texas), did not immediately respond to requests for clarification about the Pentagon policies.

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Congress

Boebert denigrates, misgenders trans Pentagon official

Comments targeted Assistant Secretary of Defense Shawn Skelly

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Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.) addresses a crowd outside of the U.S. Capitol building. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

U.S. Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.) denigrated and deliberately misgendered Assistant Secretary of Defense for Readiness Shawn Skelly, the Pentagon’s highest ranked transgender official, during a debate Wednesday over amendments to a defense appropriations bill.

In remarks that stirred outrage from her Democratic colleagues, the congresswoman called Skelly a “delusional man thinking he is a woman” and the embodiment of “woke-ism” before proposing an amendment that would reduce her salary to a dollar.

Skelly served on active duty in the U.S. Navy for 20 years as a naval flight officer before retiring with the rank of commander. Her record of service includes senior positions with the Defense and Transportation Departments during the Obama administration.

“Assistant Secretary Skelly has served in her role admirably, as she has done as her time as a naval officer,” responded U.S. Rep. Betty McCollum (D-Minn.), stressing each of the feminine pronouns as she spoke.

The second-term Colorado representative countered with more transphobic comments: “if you want to call Mr. Skelly a her, his chromosomes are still XY, and we trust the science over here rather than delusion and playing dress up and imaginary games with our military readiness.”

Boebert is among the more vocal members of an ultraconservative cohort of House Republicans who, in recent weeks, have sabotaged efforts to clear must-pass appropriations spending packages before Oct. 1 to forestall a government shutdown.

Members of the far-right faction have attached to these bills controversial, partisan, and often anti-LGBTQ amendments — effectively dooming their chances of passage by the U.S. Senate amid Democratic control of the chamber.

With respect to the Defense Department spending bill, for example, GOP members have advanced proposals that would defund healthcare services for transgender service members and ban Pride flags from military bases.

On X, U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.), chair of the Congressional Equality Caucus, wrote that “Republicans claim to support the military but Rep. Boebert, just spent five minutes misgendering and attacking our Assistant Secretary of Defense for Readiness — just because she’s trans. Ms. Skelly serves our country with honor. I can’t say the same for Boebert.”

The caucus added, “It’s disgusting that a Member of Congress would use their platform on the House Floor to misgender and attack a top-ranking @DeptofDefense official and veteran just because she’s a trans woman.”

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Congress

HRC ad campaign slams ‘extremist’ House GOP’s role in looming government shutdown

Funding deadline is Oct. 1.

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

The Human Rights Campaign launched an ad campaign on Monday slamming House Republicans for advancing anti-LGBTQ and other “out of touch demands” rather than working to clear must-pass spending bills before the month’s end to avoid a government shutdown.

In the weeks since Congress returned from the summer recess, opportunities to forestall this outcome narrowed with each passing day as small groups of the GOP conference’s most conservative members obstructed votes, led an open rebellion against House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), and added anti-LGBTQ and other far-right amendments to all 12 appropriations bills, effectively dooming the prospects of their passage by the Senate.

HRC’s announcement of plans to run the six-figure blitz “across major national outlets, cable networks and digital streaming services” included a 30-second ad titled “Grind to a Halt,” which accuses House Republicans of “trying to limit the health care you and your family can access, ban books and flags, and block enforcement of civil rights laws.”

In a statement, HRC President Kelley Robinson said the conservative lawmakers had “hijacked the appropriations process to attack LGBTQ+ communities rather than doing their jobs,” noting that a shutdown would “interrupt critical government services, hurt working families and endanger our national security.”

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House GOP sinks their own spending bill, Dems object to anti-LGBTQ riders

Vote was 216-212

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

A group of four hardline House Republicans on Thursday joined Democratic colleagues to sink their own spending bill, a $886 billion military appropriations package full of riders from GOP members that include anti-abortion and anti-LGBTQ provisions.

The 216-212 vote raised the likelihood of a government shutdown if lawmakers are unable to forge a path forward before the end of September.

“Instead of decreasing the chance of a shutdown, Speaker McCarthy is actually increasing it by wasting time on extremist proposals that cannot become law in the Senate,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said.

His counterpart in the House, Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), expressed frustration with his own caucus, characterizing the impasse he has reached with colleagues as “frustrating in the sense that I don’t understand why anybody votes against bringing the idea and having the debate.”

“And then you got all the amendments if you don’t like the bill,” he continued. “This is a whole new concept of individuals that just want to burn the whole place down — it doesn’t work.”

A group of 155 House Democrats on Thursday issued a letter objecting to anti-LGBTQ provisions in the bill, the 2024 National Defense Authorization Act, addressing the message to U.S. Sens. Jack Reed (D-R.I.) and Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), chair and ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, and U.S. Reps. Mike Rogers (R-Ala.) and Adam Smith (D-Wash.), chair and ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee.

The effort was led by Congressional Equality Caucus Chair U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.) and the co-chairs of the Caucus’s Transgender Equality Task Force, U.S. Reps. Sara Jacobs (D-Calif.) and Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.).

Specifically, the letter argues several anti-equality amendments would “actively target LGBTQ+ service members and LGBTQ+ dependents and threaten the recruitment, retention, and readiness of our Armed Forces.”

Among these are riders prohibiting coverage of gender affirming healthcare interventions for service members and their dependents; banning LGBTQ Pride flags, drag shows and other events; and restricting funding for certain books in schools operated by the Department of Defense Education Activity.

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