House Democrats on Wednesday resurrected a measure ensuring equal protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people after their last attempt erupted in chaos last week.
Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (D-N.Y.) reprised his amendment to enforce an executive order President Obama issued in 2014 to prohibit federal contractors from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.
The House approved his amendment to an Energy Department spending bill in a 223-195 vote late Wednesday night, in contrast to a similar vote a week ago when the measure failed by a single vote. Forty-three Republicans joined with all Democrats to support the amendment.
Cheers broke out on the House floor after the amendment passed.
Maloney’s proposal originally had enough votes to pass last Thursday on another appropriations bill for the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). But House GOP leaders held the vote open for seven minutes as they frantically lobbied Republicans to change their votes so that it would fail.
GOP leaders warned that adoption of Maloney’s amendment would have jeopardized passage of the underlying VA spending bill. The night before, the House had passed the annual defense authorization with a provision that effectively exempts religious organizations from complying with Obama’s executive order.
While unveiling his reprised amendment, Maloney, who is openly gay, angrily recalled the events of last week as the votes in favor of his measure gradually switched against it.
“With all time expired, it was clear as could be that equality had won the vote. But when the world watched, something else happened. Something shameful happened,” Maloney said. “Something about treating LGBT people fairly just wouldn’t do. ”
Republicans were more prepared this time for Maloney’s amendment, because it was clear ahead of time that it would come up for a vote. Last week’s vote came with little warning, which resulted in GOP leaders partaking in the last-minute arm-twisting.
Rep. Joe Pitts (R-Pa.) offered a counter-amendment so that Maloney’s proposal would be modified by stating that no funds could be used in contravention of the LGBT executive order except as “required by the First Amendment, the Fourteenth Amendment, and Article I of the Constitution.”
“Does anyone in this chamber seriously oppose Article I of the constitution, the First Amendment, or the 14th Amendment?” Pitts asked.
Maloney allowed Pitts’s amendment to pass by voice vote, saying that he had no objection to simply stating adherence to the Constitution.
“What do you say we abide by the whole Constitution? The part that tries to make it more progressive, more inclusive of people like me, of people of color, of women, of people who were shut out when it was written. How about we include the whole Constitution? Can we do that?” Maloney said.
Ahead of the vote, influential conservative group Heritage Action urged Republicans to oppose Maloney’s amendment and said that it would be including it on its legislative scorecard.
“Make no mistake: A vote for the Maloney amendment is a vote for President Obama’s radical transgender bathroom agenda,” the notice reads.
Heritage Action further dismissed the change made by Pitts’s counter-amendment, saying it had “absolutely no substantive effect.”
“Simply adding a reference to the Constitution at the end of the amendment will in no way mitigate the amendment’s damage to religious liberty,” it added.
Earlier Wednesday night, the House adopted, 227-192, an amendment from Rep. Robert Pittenger (R-N.C.) prohibiting the Obama administration from revoking funds previously appropriated to North Carolina in retaliation for the state’s controversial transgender bathroom law.
The Justice Department filed a lawsuit earlier this month against North Carolina for its law, which requires people to use the bathroom corresponding with their birth gender instead of their gender identity.
“We believe this is an egregious abuse of executive power and that the State of North Carolina should not be required to comply to the president’s wishes. The president is not a monarch, he is not a dictator, he does not issue fiats, we are a constitutional divided government,” Pittenger said.
Pittenger’s office said he plans to offer similar amendments to upcoming appropriations bills.
The House also passed, 233-186, an amendment offered by Rep. Bradley Byrne (R-Ala.) to prohibit the use of funds in contravention of religious freedom.
All seven of the Republicans accused by Democrats of switching their votes last week — Reps. Jeff Denham (Calif.), David Valadao (Calif.), David Young (Iowa), Bruce Poliquin (Maine), Mimi Walters (Calif.), Greg Walden (Ore.) and Darrell Issa (Calif.) — voted for Maloney’s amendment on Wednesday.
Young, who’s one of the most vulnerable House Republicans up for reelection this cycle, said in a statement that the tweaked version of the Maloney amendment was a “commonsense solution which furthers policies that adhere to our nation’s principles and religious beliefs.”
Issa maintained to The Hill earlier this week that he had changed his vote before House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) approached him on the floor and that he intended to oppose the amendment.
“People hit the wrong button regularly,” Issa insisted.
Maloney had the ability to force another vote on his proposal on Wednesday because the Energy Department spending bill was considered under a process that allows members of either party to offer unlimited amendments.
However, Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) laid out plans this week to require lawmakers to submit their amendments in advance for upcoming spending bills to avoid more political curveballs from Democrats like last week’s chaotic vote.