Metro Weekly

U.S. House blocks vote on LGBT nondiscrimination amendment

Just days after Orlando massacre, House Rules Committee, again, refuses to allow vote on pro-LGBT measure

U.S. Capitol Building (Photo: Raul654, via Wikimedia Commons).

U.S. Capitol Building (Photo: Raul654, via Wikimedia Commons).

The U.S. House Committee on Rules has once again put the brakes on allowing a pro-LGBT amendment to be voted upon and attached to a Defense Department spending bill, this time just days after a horrific mass shooting in Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando. Forty-nine people were killed and 53 others were injured in the attack during on Sunday morning, making it the country’s deadliest mass shooting. 

U.S. Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (D-N.Y.), one of six openly LGBT House members, filed an amendment to the spending bill that would have enforced an executive order, issued by President Obama in 2014, that prohibits discrimination against LGBT people by companies that contract with the federal government. The defense bill is expected to be voted upon this week. But, as it has before, the Rules Committee, which determines which amendments can be offered on the floor, blocked the amendment from even being considered at its meeting on Tuesday evening, The Hill reports.

Obviously, Maloney was disappointed when his amendment would not even be taken up for consideration, despite support from two Republicans who cosponsored the amendment, Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (Fla.) and Richard Hanna (N.Y.). Maloney told The Hill that he had hoped that allowing a vote on the nondiscrimination amendment would send a message of solidarity with the national LGBT community, which was left reeling after news of the shooting broke.

“It’s hard to imagine that any act that is so horrific could lead to anything positive,” he said. “But if we were going to do anything, it would be a very positive step to say that discrimination has no place in our law and to reaffirm the president’s actions in this area. Seems to me a pretty basic thing to do.”

Sessions

U.S. Rep. Pete Sessions, R-Texas (Photo: U.S. Congress, via Wikimedia).

At a news conference last week touching on an unrelated LGBT-focused bill, Maloney expressed exasperation at House Republican leadership’s refusal to allow any pro-LGBT amendments or pieces of legislation to pass. But this is not the first time LGBT advocates have butted heads with the Rules Committee, and its powerful chairman, Dallas-area Congressman Pete Sessions (R-Texas). Sessions became the target of criticism after he wrongly insisted that Pulse was not a gay club, but rather a “young person’s nightclub” with “mostly Latinos” present. His office has since clarified that the congressman was mistaken in his assessment.

But regardless of Sessions’ motives, it is clear that he has used his chairmanship of the Rules Committee to prevent several pro-LGBT amendments from earning a floor vote. Earlier this year, after the Committee on Armed Services added a provision allowing any “religious corporation, religious association, religious educational institution, or religious society” to discriminate against LGBT people to the National Defense Authorization Act, the Rules Committee refused to allow consideration of a bipartisan pro-LGBT amendment that would have removed that provision from the bill. The committee also refused to allow Maloney to attach his nondiscrimination amendment to a legislative branch operations bill last week.

Congressman Sean Patrick Maloney, D-N.Y. (Photo:  Office of U.S. Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, via Wikimedia).

Congressman Sean Patrick Maloney, D-N.Y. (Photo: Office of U.S. Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, via Wikimedia).

Even setting aside the Rules Committee’s actions, Republican leaders in the House have taken other steps to block any pro-LGBT provisions. Last month, Maloney previously offered an amendment identical to the one he introduced this week, attempting to attach it to a Department of Veterans Affairs spending bill. But Republican leaders left the clock running on the vote, thus allowing them to pressure some GOP lawmakers into switching their votes so that the amendment fell one vote short.

Maloney then tried another tactic, successfully attaching his amendment to a water and infrastructure spending bill for the Energy Department after earning the votes of 43 Republicans. But conservatives offered other amendments as “poison pills” — such as provisions relating to restricting immigration or attempting to tie the federal government’s hands to prevent it from pulling federal funding from states that pass anti-LGBT laws like North Carolina’s infamous HB 2. As a result, the measure was overwhelmingly defeated, with a large bloc of socially conservative Republicans refusing to vote for any bill that had a nondiscrimination provision attached, and most Democrats voting against it because of the Republicans’ poison pill amendments. Thus, Maloney is now 0 for 4 in attempts to get his amendment passed into law.

John Riley is the local news reporter for Metro Weekly. He can be reached at jriley@metroweekly.com