LGBT fight dooms spending bill on House floor
© Getty Images

An energy and water spending bill failed on the House floor Thursday after a Democratic amendment to ensure protections for the LGBT community was included in the legislation, a continuation of a fight that could endanger the rest of the appropriations process this session.

Members on Wednesday night adopted a Democratic amendment to the 2017 energy and water spending bill that would enforce a 2014 executive order prohibiting federal contractors from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.

ADVERTISEMENT
The House dramatically voted down a similar amendment last week, when GOP leaders persuaded enough Republicans to switch sides so that it failed by a single vote.

Most Democrats voted against the bill due to its spending levels and policy riders. Taken together with Republicans who opposed the LGBT measure, the Energy Department spending bill didn’t have enough votes to pass Thursday.

It failed 112-305, with 130 Republicans — more than half of the House GOP caucus — joining all but six Democrats to sink the legislation.

House GOP leaders could still try to bring spending bills to the floor, but they may start considering them under a more limited process that prevents lawmakers in either party from offering unlimited amendments.

Asked whether the House can pass more spending bills this year, Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) said, “I think so, yeah,” adding that ending the open amendment process would "be considered."

“We’ll adapt to the circumstances and move on," he said.

The bill’s failure Thursday marks the second time in two weeks lawmakers have waged a very public fight on the House floor over protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.

Seven Republicans last week changed their position during a roll call vote to block a similar amendment offered by Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (D-N.Y.), who is gay.

The seven Republicans accused by Democrats of switching their votes under pressure from GOP leaders a week ago — Reps. Jeff Denham (Calif.), David Valadao (Calif.), David Young (Iowa), Darrell Issa (Calif.), Mimi Walters (Calif.), Greg Walden (Ore.) and Bruce Poliquin (Maine) — all supported the Maloney amendment late Wednesday night. None denied changing his or her vote last week.

Young and Poliquin face particularly tough reelection fights this fall and came under fire in their districts for switching sides.

Rep. Joe Pitts (R-Pa.) offered a counter-amendment that modified Maloney's proposal on constitutional grounds.

In addition, the House adopted amendments late Wednesday from Reps. Bradley Byrne (R-Ala.) and Robert Pittenger (R-N.C.) intended to ensure religious freedom and prohibit the Obama administration from withholding federal funds from North Carolina over its controversial law on bathroom use by transgender people.

But those GOP measures weren't enough to save the underlying bill.

Maloney had the ability to force another vote on his amendment because of the open process used to consider appropriations bills. Under the procedure, members of either party can offer as many amendments as they want without advance notice.

For the third time recently, the open process backfired on House GOP leaders, who had often touted it as a return to "regular order" in the legislative process.

In addition to the chaos over Maloney's amendment last week, House GOP leaders ended up scrapping consideration of appropriations bills entirely last summer after Democrats passed amendments limiting the display of Confederate symbols.

GOP lawmakers, primarily from Southern states, demanded that those Confederate measures be stripped from the underlying Interior Department spending bill. 

House Republican leadership instead opted against staging a vote that would show their members supporting of the Confederate flag as the nation was still reeling from a racially motivated shooting in Charleston, S.C.

Democrats tore into the GOP on Thursday. Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said Republicans had otherwise “chosen to engage in a systematic campaign of discrimination against LGBT Americans” and “should be ashamed of themselves.”

Despite the adoption of his amendment, Maloney said he voted against the underlying spending bill due to the inclusion of the Pittenger amendment.

“For me, I couldn’t in good conscience vote for Pittenger. I fought all week to get workplace protections,” Maloney told reporters off the House floor after the vote.

Maloney said he will continue offering similar amendments aimed at preventing LGBT discrimination.

The LGBT fight stemmed from a provision in a defense policy bill the House passed last week that effectively exempts religious organizations from President Obama’s executive order prohibiting LGBT discrimination.

Rep. Steve Russell (R-Okla.), the author of that provision in the defense bill, defended it as a means of protecting religious freedom.

“You would have thought I had killed someone’s mother,” Russell said of the reaction to his proposal. “Instead of upholding the free exercise clause of the First Amendment, we have now seen this body continue its assault on faith in America.”

Russell maintained in a House floor speech after Thursday’s vote that religious organizations should have the right to adhere to their beliefs and described homosexuality as a violation of nature.

“We are accused of hatred, called out as shameful on this floor, and enjoined to use the whole Constitution to support an opposing view that embodies behavior, mores and outcomes that not only violate our conscience, but have been prohibited under the laws of nature and nature’s God,” Russell said.

Thursday's $37.5 billion bill provides funding for the Department of Energy and water programs within the federal government. It was the second spending bill to hit the House floor this year, but leadership aides told The Hill that the LGBT spat puts the rest of this year's appropriations process in jeopardy. 

Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanGOP leaders pitch children's health funding in plan to avert shutdown Lawmakers see shutdown’s odds rising Fix what we’ve got and make Medicare right this year MORE (R-Wis.) told Republicans in a closed-door conference meeting Thursday morning that the fight over amendments is a consequence of the open process that lawmakers said they wanted, according to sources in the room.

Republicans began to turn on each other in the conference meeting. Rep. Matt SalmonMatthew (Matt) James SalmonQuiet jockeying for McCain seat angers Republicans McSally tells GOP colleagues she'll run for Arizona Senate GOP Senate hopeful Kelli Ward leads challengers in internal poll MORE (R-Ariz.), a member of the conservative Freedom Caucus, blasted centrist lawmakers for the "sweet irony" that they want "compassion for voting your conscience, but you call for our heads when we do."

But Republicans praised Ryan for allowing an open process regardless of the consequences.

"To allow things to be voted up or down, it’s a bold move by the Speaker. I applaud him for allowing it to either pass or fail on the merits of what the final bill is all about," Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) said.

House Rules Committee Chairman Pete Sessions (R-Texas) pinned the blame on Democrats, saying they shouldn’t offer controversial policy items to appropriations bills. 

“I think issues that are extraneous, that are policy issues, that we have not taken position on, is a poison pill to our appropriations process,” he said. 

“I believe it’s important not to put poison pills, things that people understand are difficult issues to put at risk [the appropriations process].”

Scott Wong and Timothy Cama contributed.

Updated at 1:03 p.m.