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Maxine Waters criticizes House Republicans over proposed cuts to HIV/AIDS programs

Calif. Democrat spoke at U.S. Conference on HIV/AIDS in D.C.

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U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) speaks at the U.S. Conference on HIV/AIDS on Sept. 6, 2023, in D.C. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) on Wednesday sharply criticized House Republicans over their proposed cuts to HIV/AIDS prevention programs.

The California Democrat who represents the state’s 43rd Congressional District in a speech she delivered at the U.S. Conference on HIV/AIDS in D.C. noted the House Appropriations Committee’s Fiscal Year 2024 Labor, Health, Human Services, Education and Related Agencies Appropriations Bill would cut $767 million from domestic HIV/AIDS programs.

Waters said the bill would cut funds to fight HIV/AIDS among underrepresented groups by 53 percent and “completely eliminates” funding for “Minority AIDS Initiative activities within the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.” Waters also noted the appropriations measure “eliminates funding” for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Ending the HIV Epidemic Initiative, the Ryan White HIV/AIDS Program and community health centers.

“The cuts to the Minority AIDS Initiative will exacerbate racial disparities and the elimination of the (Ending the) HIV Epidemic Initiative,” said Waters.

Waters also criticized House Republicans for “refusing to authorize” the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief.” The California Democrat said ending PEPFAR “would endanger the lives of millions of people around the world who are living with HIV and endanger the lives of millions more who are at risk.” 

“Moreover, it would compromise United States leadership on global health issues,” added Waters. “These programs used to have widespread support. It’s shameful that House Republicans are now trying to eliminate them. We cannot allow these cuts to pass. We cannot compromise. We will not give up.”

U.S. Reps. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) and Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) are among those who Waters criticized by name in her speech.

“I will speak truth to power. I want to use words that they will understand. Hell no! We won’t go! We are not going to give up,” said Waters. “That’s the people’s money. You can’t decide who you’re going to spend it on and not who you’re going to spend it on.”

More than 3,000 people are expected to attend the National Minority AIDS Council-organized conference that will end on Saturday. This year’s theme is “A Love Letter to Black Women.”

“We need a love letter to Black women,” said Waters. “We need it not only from this conference. We need it from our families often times. We need it from our communities. We need it from the churches that we give so much attention to and give our resources to and don’t really get it back. We need a love letter coming from all over this country for what we have suffered, for what we have endured, for the way that we have been denied and for the way that we have been ostracized.” 

Waters in her speech specifically praised former Massachusetts Congressman Barney Frank and the late U.S. Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.) for their work in support of LGBTQ rights and efforts to combat HIV/AIDS. Waters also thanked Jewel Thais-Williams, who opened Catch One, a bar and restaurant on Los Angeles’ Pico Boulevard that became a refuge for people with HIV/AIDS.

“They had nowhere to gather, nowhere to go, nowhere to be recognized as people who needed support,” said Waters.

B. Kaye Hayes, deputy assistant secretary for infectious disease in the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Health who is also the executive director of the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS, is among those who are expected to speak at the conference. Mark S. King, an HIV/AIDS activist and blogger who published “My Fabulous Disease: Chronicles of a Gay Survivor” on Sept. 1, is scheduled to talk on Thursday.

Cal Benn contributed to this story.

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Congress

Laphonza Butler sworn in as California’s newest senator

Former vice president advisor will succeed Dianne Feinstein

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U.S. Sen. Laphonza Butler (D-Calif.), left, with her wife, Neneki Lee, at the U.S. Senate on Oct. 3, 2023. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Vice President Kamala Harris on Tuesday swore in Democrat Laphonza Butler as California’s newest U.S. senator during a ceremony at the U.S. Capitol.

The first Black lesbian to serve in the Senate, Butler was president of the nation’s largest organization dedicated to electing women to public office, EMILY’s List, and previously was a senior advisor to the vice president during her 2020 bid for the Oval Office.

Harris, the country’s first woman vice president as well as the first Black and South Asian person to serve in that role, also made history with her tenure as attorney general and then senator for California.

Democratic California Gov. Gavin Newsom appointed Butler to fill the vacancy caused by the death, on Friday, of U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, who had represented the state in the upper chamber since 1992.

Per the terms of her appointment, Butler will be eligible to run for the seat during next year’s elections, in which case she would face competition from three high profile Democrats now representing California in the House: U.S. Reps. Barbara Lee, Katie Porter and Adam Schiff.

Newsom in 2021 pledged that he would appoint a Black woman to Feinstein’s seat. Lee, so far the only Black woman among the declared candidates, congratulated Butler in a statement in which the congresswoman said she is “singularly focused on winning” her Senate campaign.

California “deserves an experienced senator who will deliver on progressive priorities,” she said. “That’s exactly what I’m running to do.”

Consistent with her work in progressive politics, Butler was previously a labor leader with Service Employees International Union, SEIU, the powerful union where her wife, Neneki Lee, serves as director of the Public Services division.

Human Rights Campaign President Kelley Robinson and Claire Lucas and Judy Dlugacz were among those who attended the swearing in alongside Butler’s wife.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and U.S. Sen. Alex Padilla (D-Calif.) escorted Butler into the chamber. Lee and Schiff were among those who attended the ceremony.

“It’s a good day,” Lucas told the Washington Blade as she left the chamber.

Michael K. Lavers contributed to this story.

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Politics

Laphonza Butler appointed as California’s first openly LGBTQ U.S. senator

Dianne Feinstein died in D.C. on Sept. 28

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EMILY’s List President Laphonza Butler speaking at EMILYs List's annual We Are EMILY National Gala, May 16, 2023. (Photo Credit: EMILY’s List/Facebook)

On Sunday evening, California Gov. Gavin Newsom announced he is appointing Black openly lesbian EMILY’s List President, Laphonza Butler, to the vacant seat of the late U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein who died Friday at age 90.

Butler’s wife is Neneki Lee, the D.C.-based director for labor union SEIU’s Public Services Division.

News of Butler’s selection by Newsom was first reported by Politico’s California Bureau Chief Christopher Cadelago. A source knowledgeable on the governor’s team told Politico there were no preconditions about whether she could run in 2024.

Newsom’s office confirmed that he has picked Butler, a Democratic strategist who rose to prominence in the labor movement, to fill Feinstein’s seat.

In an emailed statement, Newsom said:

“An advocate for women and girls, a second-generation fighter for working people, and a trusted adviser to Vice President Harris, Laphonza Butler represents the best of California, and she’ll represent us proudly in the U.S. Senate. As we mourn the enormous loss of Senator Feinstein, the very freedoms she fought for — reproductive freedom, equal protection, and safety from gun violence — have never been under greater assault. Laphonza will carry the baton left by Senator Feinstein, continue to break glass ceilings, and fight for all Californians in Washington D.C.” 

Equality California tweeted a statement praising Newsom’s action:

Democrat Alex Padilla, now serving as California’s senior U.S. senator, released the following statement after Newsom appointed Butler to fill the vacancy created by the late Senator Feinstein: 

“Throughout her career, Laphonza Butler has been a strong voice for working families, LGBTQ rights, and a champion for increasing women’s representation in politics. I’m honored to welcome her to the United States Senate.

“Governor Newsom’s swift action ensures that Californians maintain full representation in the Senate as we navigate a narrow Democratic majority. I look forward to working together to deliver for the people of California.” 

Butler is a longtime leader in Democratic politics in California and beyond. She has been involved in campaign strategy, and the labor movement for two decades, and according to her official biography she has dedicated her life to empowering women and supporting them in finding their voice, and using it to make meaningful change.

Newsom’s office noted in its statement:

“Butler, a longtime senior adviser to Vice President Kamala Harris, labor leader and advocate for women and working people, will be the first openly LGBTQ person to represent California in the Senate. She will also be the first Black lesbian to openly serve in Congress in American history and the second Black woman to represent California in the Senate following Vice President Kamala Harris.”

Prior to joining EMILYs List, Butler served as Director of Public Policy and Campaigns in North America for Airbnb. She also was a partner at SCRB Strategies, a political consulting firm where she was a strategist for candidates running up and down the ballot and a senior advisor to Vice President Kamala Harris’ presidential campaign.

With nearly 20 years in the labor movement, Butler has served as the president of the biggest union in California, and the nation’s largest home care workers union, SEIU Local 2015. She was elected to this position at just 30 years old, one of the youngest to take on this role. As president, Butler was the leading voice, strategist, and architect of efforts to address pay inequity for women in California and a top advocate for raising the state’s minimum wage to $15 an hour — the first state in the nation to do so, benefiting millions of working women in low wage jobs. That effort also gave hundreds of thousands of home workers access to paid time off. She also served as an SEIU International Vice President and President of the SEIU California State Council.

Throughout her career, Butler has been highly regarded as a strategist working to elect Democratic women candidates in political offices across California and nationally. A long-time supporter of Kamala Harris in her California runs, Butler was a key leader in Vice President Harris’ presidential campaign. She served as a senior advisor to Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign in California during the primary and general elections. Most recently, Butler was a campaign operative behind the campaign to make the Los Angeles Board of Supervisors all-women for the first time in its history with the election of Supervisor Holly Mitchell.

She has been a member of the University of California Board of Regents and a member of the board of directors for the Children’s Defense Fund and BLACK PAC.

Laphonza grew up in Magnolia, Miss., and attended one of the country’s premier HBCUs, Jackson State University. She lives in Maryland with her wife, Neneki, and together they have a daughter, Nylah.

EMILY’s List is an American political action committee that aims to help elect Democratic female candidates in favor of abortion rights to office. It was founded by Ellen Malcolm in 1985. The group’s name is an acronym for “Early Money Is Like Yeast.” Malcolm commented that “it makes the dough rise.”

Newsom appoints Laphonza Butler to the U.S. Senate:

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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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