House Speaker Paul D. Ryan finds himself in the middle of yet another Republican civil war as the battle over LGBT rights has come to Congress, threatening to divide an already fractured GOP.
It is a fight the speaker does not want to have — especially in a competitive election year in which presumptive GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump’s candidacy is already tearing the party apart.
The fight escalated on Thursday when shortly before an expected vote over an energy and water spending bill, House Republicans held a private meeting in which many vented their frustrations over language passed late Wednesday to bar discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender employees of federal contractors, according to several people in the room.
The spending bill failed in a 305-to-112 vote — along with the LGBT language introduced by Rep. Sean Maloney, an openly gay New York Democrat.
Several GOP members were deeply upset after Rep. Rick Allen (R-Ga.) offered a prayer at their Thursday meeting implying that those who supported LGBT rights “on the floor last night” went against the teachings of the Bible, according to several people in the room. At least one member walked out after Allen’s comments, the people said.
“I thought the comments were wildly out of bounds and especially inappropriate given that this was supposed to be a prayer,” said Rep. Charlie Dent (R-Pa.).
Dent voted for the Maloney amendment both times and has been cited by Democrats as a key GOP ally in passing the measure.
A spokeswoman for Allen acknowledged that he led the prayer at the GOP meeting but said he “made no mention of the amendment or the bill.”
“It’s unfortunate because it’s a very good bill. . . . But what we learned today is that the Democrats were not looking to advance an issue but to sabotage the appropriations process,” Ryan (R-Wis.) said after the vote. “The mere fact that they passed their amendment and then voted against the bill containing their amendment proves this point.”
People in Thursday morning’s GOP conference meeting said Republican lawmakers expressed concerns about Maloney’s amendment, though some said that it would not be their reason for opposing the spending bill.
Ryan, those people said, emphasized that as part of his speakership, he was asked to follow regular order, which means allowing a free-flowing amendment process on the House floor. Now, Ryan faces a key test of his leadership as the entire budget process — passing multiple spending bills to fund the government — could be in jeopardy if Republicans balk at allowing an open process.
Republican opposition was not the only thing to sink the spending bill. Democrats are also upset about language attached Wednesday night regarding Iran’s nuclear capability and other proposals introduced by Rep. Bradley Byrne (R-Ala.) regarding LGBT students and Rep. Robert Pittenger (R-N.C.) to block the federal government from punishing North Carolina for its new law preventing transgender people from using bathrooms corresponding to their gender identity.
Democrats won an opening salvo late Wednesday when the House approved on a vote of 223 to 195 Maloney’s measure denying payment to federal contractors who discriminate against LGBT employees. Maloney had proposed such language before, but it was defeated last week on the House floor, with Democrats accusing Republican leaders of pressing their members to switch votes at the last minute.
“Equality wins! We have a long way to go, but achieved big victory. Will keep fighting until every #LGBT American is safe, can pursue dreams,” Maloney tweeted.
But after Maloney’s defeat Thursday morning, it is clear conservatives will continue to wage their fight.
Conservatives are mainly taking aim at a pair of directives by President Obama to ensure protections for LGBT employees of federal contractors and to ensure public schools provide access to locker rooms and bathrooms that correspond with students’ gender identity. Also on Wednesday, Byrne’s measure passed to exempt religious groups from complying with the directives.