Pressure is mounting on House GOP leaders to call a vote this month on a religious-freedom bill banning the federal government from punishing churches, charities or private schools for actions in opposition to same-sex marriage. The legislation, dubbed the First Amendment Defense Act, is gaining steam.
It was just two weeks ago that the New York Times reported that many Republican insiders saw a bright, silver lining to the Supreme Court case bringing marriage equality to the nation. The ruling offers the GOP a chance to "pivot" away from an issue on which the party is "sharply out of step with the American public."
The piece noted some Republican strategists privately characterized the high court decisions as "nothing short of a gift from above."
It is, however, a gift that the party apparently doesn't want. The Hill reported this week:
That's a fair characterization. In the House, the bill is up to 124 co-sponsors -- including 17 who've signed on just this week -- and in the Senate, a companion measure has 34 co-sponsors, which is nearly two-thirds of the Senate Republican caucus.
Heritage Action isn't just pushing party leaders to support the legislation, the far-right group is including co-sponsorship of the bill as a "key vote" that will go towards members' ratings on Heritage scorecards. (Usually, "key votes" are actual votes on legislation. Heritage is going one step further on this, treating sponsorship as a vote.)
Even Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), a relatively constructive member who's close to House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), said he hopes to see the proposal on the House floor. "Members going home for August town halls would like to have had an opportunity to stake out their position on this," Cole said, adding, "There's clearly quite a head of steam."
So much for the "pivot."
Indeed, note that of the four sitting GOP senators running for president, three -- Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, and Lindsey Graham -- have already put their names on the bill. (Rand Paul has not, though he opposes marriage equality and may yet co-sponsor the measure.)
Keep in mind, plenty of bills get introduced effectively as public-relations stunts. These measures are intended to generate a few headlines, but they're quickly dispatched to committee, never to be heard from again. Republican members might get a fundraising letter and/or a Fox News segment out the idea, but there's no real expectation of the legislation reaching the floor.
The "First Amendment Defense Act" is different. Rank-and-file GOP lawmakers want to be seen fighting against marriage equality, even now, so they're rallying behind a bill that would "prohibit the government from retaliating against churches, schools and adoption agencies that only recognize heterosexual marriage."
When it's Louie Gohmert demanding a vote on some far-right measure, House Republican leaders find it easy to just roll their eyes and focus attention elsewhere. But when 124 representatives and 34 senators -- including several GOP presidential candidates -- demand a vote on some far-right measure, the Speaker's office finds it far more difficult to laugh it off.