The House floor devolved into chaos and shouting on Thursday as a measure to ensure protections for members of the LGBT community narrowly failed to pass, after Republican leaders urged their members to change their votes.
Initially, it appeared Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney's (D-N.Y.) amendment had passed, as 217 "yes" votes piled up over 206 "no" votes when the clock ran out. The measure needed 213 votes to pass.
But it eventually failed, 212-213, after a number of Republican lawmakers changed their votes from "yes" to "no" after the clock had expired.
Here's the before and after votes on striking anti-LGBT language from NDAA. They had it til some GOPers flipped. pic.twitter.com/yokSeFsyOO— Jennifer Bendery (@jbendery) May 19, 2016
"Shame! Shame! Shame!" Democrats chanted as they watched the vote tally go from passage of Maloney's amendment to narrow failure.
Twenty-nine Republicans voted for Maloney's amendment to a spending bill for the Department of Veterans Affairs and military construction projects, along with all Democrats in the final roll call.
"This is one of the ugliest episodes I've experienced in my three-plus years as a member of this House," Maloney, who is openly gay, said while offering his amendment.
According to the office of House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), at least seven Republicans changed their votes, including Reps. Jeff Denham (Calif.), Darrell Issa (Calif.), Bruce Poliquin (Maine), David Valadao (Calif.), Greg Walden (Ore.), Mimi Walters (Calif.) and David Young (Iowa).
Denham, Valadao, Poliquin and Young are among the most vulnerable Republicans up for reelection this year. Walden, meanwhile, chairs the House GOP campaign arm.
Poliquin denied opposing the amendment due to pressure from GOP leaders.
"I am outraged that political opponents or members of the press would claim or insinuate that I cast a vote due to pressure or party politics. No one controls my vote," he said in a statement, adding, "I abhor discrimination in any form and at any place."
The failed amendment would have effectively nullified a provision in the defense authorization that the House passed late Wednesday night. The language embedded in the defense bill states that religious corporations, associations and institutions that receive federal contracts can't be discriminated against on the basis of religion.
Democrats warn that such a provision could potentially allow discrimination against the LGBT community in the name of religious freedom. Maloney's amendment specifically would prohibit funds to implement contracts with any company that doesn't comply with President Obama's executive orderbanning federal contractors from discriminating against LGBT workers.
When asked about the vote-switching, Speaker Paul RyanPaul RyanPelosi: 'Of course' Dems can be against abortion Five fights for Trump’s first year Sunday shows preview: Trump stares down 100-day mark MORE (R-Wis.) denied knowing whether his leadership team pressured Republicans.
"I don't know the answer. I don't even know,” Ryan told reporters.
He defended the provision in the defense bill.
"This is federalism; the states should do this. The federal government shouldn't stick its nose in its business,” he said.
Democrats accused Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) of leading the Republican operation to flip votes.
Maloney said he'd approached McCarthy to urge regular order but was dismissed.
"I said, 'What are you doing? You can let this go; your own members are supporting it,'" Maloney said, recounting the exchange with McCarthy. "And he said, 'Get back on your own side of the aisle.' And I said to him, 'What side of the aisle am I supposed to stand on to support equality?'"
Maloney emphasized that many Republicans held their ground and refused to switch sides. Rep. Charlie Dent (R-Pa.) "was at the head of that list," Maloney said.
"McCarthy went down and talked to him, and [Dent] told [McCarthy] to get lost," Maloney said. "And McCarthy then went around and twisted everybody else's arms, and it was disgraceful.
"I don't think I've ever seen anything that craven and that ugly in my time in Congress," Maloney added.
Rep. Mark Takano (D-Calif.), who like Maloney is a member of the Congressional LGBT Caucus, said he saw Rep. Robert Dold (R-Ill.), who supported the amendment, approach Maloney on the floor and lambast his own GOP leadership team for their handling of the vote.
"This is bulls---,” Dold told Maloney, according to Takano.
Maloney declined to weigh in on that exchange specifically. But he said "easily a dozen" Republicans approached him on the floor "and expressed disgust for what happened today."
"If you look at the people who had the guts to vote yes, you'll get an idea of who that was," he added.
Procedurally, once the clock expires on a vote, the lawmaker holding the gavel usually asks if any members want to change their votes. At that point, the electronic voting machines are switched off, and any vote-changing members are expected to approach the front of the chamber, known as the well, to make their switch in person.
In this case, the Speaker pro tempore never asked that question; GOP leaders simply kept the vote open to allow members to make the switch electronically without revealing themselves.
"No one had the courage to come into the well to change their vote,” Hoyer said.
The two-minute vote was finally gaveled closed after seven minutes and 37 seconds, just after the Republicans had secured the 213 votes to kill Maloney's amendment.
The decision to leave the clock open marks a sharp break under Ryan, who assumed the Speaker's gavel with vows to return to regular order and an insistence on obeying House rules, including the use of the vote clock. It's a dynamic that was not overlooked by Democrats following Thursday's vote.
"This Speaker [has] been a stickler for having timely votes. We all rush to the floor now, because we know that they're going to close the vote now shortly after the clock runs out," Takano said. "This was highly irregular."
Maloney piled on.
"It tells me talk is cheap, and all this happy nonsense about letting the House do its will is just that: nonsense," he said. "They are strong-arming their own members to support discrimination. … This was as black-and-white as you can get."
Democrats took to Twitter to blast Republicans for pressuring their members to change votes to ensure the amendment wouldn't pass. Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.) tweeted:
Browbeating colleagues to change House votes & support fed discrimination is scandalous and more akin to the Russian Politburo. #Shame— Jackie Speier (@RepSpeier) May 19, 2016