In recent years, not much has gotten done in Congress, so there aren’t a lot of opportunities for drama. And yet, yesterday, multiple headlines highlighted the “chaos” that erupted on the floor of the House of Representatives. So, what happened?
It was a chaotic scene on the House floor Thursday morning after an amendment to help protect LGBT people from discrimination failed by just one vote as Republicans succeeded in convincing a few members of their own party to switch their votes to help ensure the measure would not pass.House Democrats could be heard chanting “shame, shame, shame” on the floor as the measure went from garnering up to 217 votes at one point down to just 212 when the vote was gaveled. Boos erupted from the House floor as the measure failed.
There are a couple of relevant angles to this. The first is the substance: two years ago, President Obama issued an executive order prohibiting government contractors from discriminating against LGBT employees and applicants. Congressional Republicans won’t consider the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, so the White House did what it could under the law.
Two years later, House Republicans want to undo that policy. When putting together this year’s big defense spending bill, the GOP quietly added a provision to restore contractors’ ability to discriminate. Pushing back, Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (D-N.Y.) sponsored an amendment yesterday to nullify the anti-LGBT provision and protect the White House’s anti-discrimination policy.
It didn’t go well – the Republican majority defeated Maloney’s amendment. In 2016, the House GOP is still willing to go to the mat to allow businesses to discriminate, even when taxpayers’ money is being used.
Which brings us to the second angle: how House Republicans waged this fight.
The House allotted a couple of minutes to vote on Maloney’s measure, and when time was up, the amendment appeared to have passed. Except, in a fairly unusual move, Republican leaders decided to keep the vote open for a while in order to get some GOP members to switch their vote and endorse discrimination rights. What was a two-minute vote turned into an eight-minute vote – the kind of abuse Republicans used to condemn – so GOP leaders could twist arms and get the outcome they wanted.
And thus, “chaos.”
Democratic leaders, outraged by the ugliness and underhanded tactics, decided to name names, releasing the list of the seven House Republicans who agreed to switch their vote, after time had expired, to advance the anti-LGBT policy (in alphabetical order): Reps. Jeff Denham (R- Calif.), Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), Bruce Poliquin (R-Maine), David Valadao (R-Calif.), Greg Walden (R-Ore.), Mimi Walters (R- Calif.), and David Young (R-Iowa).
Each of these members initially voted to do the right thing, but each reversed course.
And what of House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), who ostensibly leads the chamber and opposes keeping votes open like this? The Wisconsin congressman told reporters he agreed with the far-right position and wants to undo the administration’s policy. “This is federalism. The states should do this. The federal government shouldn’t stick its nose in this business,” Ryan said.
Or as Slate’s Mark Joseph Stern put it, the Speaker of the House “believes that states should decide whether the federal government should allow federal contractors to use federal tax dollars to engage in anti-LGBTQ discrimination when working on federal projects overseen by federal agencies. And this man is the intellectual leader of the Republican Party.”
Paul Ryan keeps facing leadership tests. He keeps flunking.