As the final races for the U.S. House of Representatives were called this week, it became apparent that the new Democratic-led Congress that will take power in January will likely be more sympathetic to LGBTQ rights.
While there are still a number of anti-LGBTQ representatives who will return to Capitol Hill in January, several vehemently anti-LGBTQ politicians were replaced by Democrats, including Reps. Rod Blum (R-Iowa), Dave Brat (R-Va.), Barbara Comstock (R-Va.), John Culberson (D-Texas), Karen Handel (R-Ga.), Mia Love (R-Utah), Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.), Keith Rothfus (R-Pa.), Steve Russell (R-Okla.), Pete Sessions (R-Texas), and Kevin Yoder (R-Kansas).
But perhaps even more remarkably, with all votes tabulated, Republicans who were little more than “fair-weather” friends to the LGBTQ community have gone down to defeat. That includes six of seven members of Congress who were instrumental in defeating an amendment to a 2017 defense appropriations bill that would have protected LGBTQ people from discrimination at the hands of federal contractors.
At the time, Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (D-N.Y.) had offered an amendment on the floor of the House to counteract a committee-approved amendment (sponsored by the aforementioned and now-defeated Congressman Russell) that would have allowed firms contracting with the federal government significant leeway to discriminate against LGBTQ employees by claiming a special religious exemption.
The provision initially looked like it had the votes to pass, but Republican leaders kept the vote open, and reportedly applied pressure to certain members to get them to switch their votes after time had expired. According to Roll Call, seven members flipped, resulting in the defeat of Maloney’s amendment by one vote. Those Republicans switching their votes were: Jeff Denham (Calif.), Darrell Issa (Calif.), Bruce Poliquin (Maine), David Valadao (Calif.), Greg Walden (Ore.), Mimi Walters (Calif.), and David Young (Iowa).
While Walden was re-elected fairly easily, his fellow vote-switchers fared less well. Issa, who had faced a stronger-than-expected challenge in 2016, announced his retirement and saw his former constituents elect Democrat Mike Levin to replace him on Nov. 6. Young lost to Democratic newcomer Cindy Axne in his Des Moines-based district. Poliquin led in the initial vote count on Election Night, but lost due to the rules of Maine’s ranked-choice voting system after a majority of voters who had supported third- and fourth-party candidates cast “second choice” votes for Democrat Jared Golden.
Similarly, the three other Californians led in initial vote counts on Nov. 6, but lost their leads as thousands of vote-by-mail, absentee, and provisional ballots were tabulated in the following weeks. Walters lost to Katie Porter, an Elizabeth Warren protégée, while Denham lost to Democrat Josh Harder. And on Wednesday, political observers declared T.J Cox the winner over David Valadao in California’s 21st Congressional District — the final race of the 2018 cycle to be called — giving the Democrats a net gain of 40 House seats.
The Human Rights Campaign, which had endorsed many Democratic candidates for office as part of its “HRC Rising” campaign in order to provide a check on what it sees as the worst anti-LGBTQ impulses of the Trump-Pence administration, said that voters “made it clear” that failing to support LGBTQ rights is out of step with the majority of American voters.
“Pro-equality candidates across the country won historic victories against this White House and its congressional enablers because the American people are tired of Trump’s needless, cruel attacks on LGBTQ people,” JoDee Winterhof, HRC’s senior vice president for policy and political affairs, said in a statement.
A spokesman for the Democratic National Committee went even further when asked about the defeats of six of the vote-flippers.
“In 2018, Democrats elected LGBTQ officials and pro-equality leaders across the country and defeated Republicans who have proven they will not stand alongside this community,” Lucas Acosta, the director of LGBTQ media for the DNC, said in a statement. “Democrats will always fight for our equality while Trump and Republicans try to roll back the progress we’ve made. Now, more than ever, it’s crucial we elect Democrats who will support our community and move us closer toward equality, not just give us lip service.”
The Log Cabin Republicans did not respond to a request for comment.
What makes the defeat of the six vote-flippers so significant is that other Republicans who did not switch their votes, including a number whose districts have similar partisan leans as those who went down to defeat, were easily re-elected, including Reps. John Katko (R-N.Y.), Will Hurd (R-Texas), Mario Diaz-Balart (R-Fla.), Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.), Tom Reed (R-N.Y.) and Fred Upton (R-Mich.).
Maloney, as both the sponsor of the amendment in question and one of 10 openly LGBTQ members of Congress, also issued a statement reflecting on Republicans’ losses in the midterms.
“A lot of my GOP friends tell me on the floor they’re ‘with me on my issues,’ but when it comes time to vote, they’re really not,” the congressman said. “This kind of conditional support is not going to fly anymore. We’re now in a place in America where the vast majority of voters won’t tolerate discrimination against our community or a member who doesn’t stand by his or her principles.
“Let this be a lesson to any GOP members in swing districts — support LGBTQ rights or lose your seat,” Maloney added. “Even if your leadership is pressuring you, you’ve got to decide to do the right thing and not back down.”