Quite a Thursday: Top House Republicans today used an underhanded voting tactic and brazen arm-twisting to block a provision that would have given additional employment protections to LGBT Americans. One Republican called their efforts “bullshit.”
Sean Patrick Maloney, a openly gay Democratic congressman from New York, introduced the amendment in question to a Veterans’ Affairs spending bill. It would have nullified part of another piece of legislation that could have let businesses that contract with the federal government discriminate against LGBT people.
At first, it looked like the amendment would pass; The Huffington Post’s Jennifer Bendery snapped a picture of the vote tally board showing that the amendment had just enough votes to squeak by: 217 yeas and 206 nays. Time on the vote clock ran out and, as Bendery reported, it looked like the amendment was a done deal. But then—according to members who saw the drama play out—things started changing. Republican Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy himself started whipping members on the floor, pushing Republicans to change their votes from supporting the amendment to opposing it.
The floor erupted, with Democrats yelling “Shame! Shame! Shame!” as the numbers on the board began to move. A number of Democrats also cried, “Regular order! Regular order!” according to Democratic Rep. Mark Takano. That was because Rep. Doug Collins, the Republican congressman presiding over the vote, didn’t bang the gavel to officially conclude voting; instead, he let the vote stay open, which gave McCarthy enough time to persuade enough Republicans to flip their votes that the amendment got blocked.
Members typically have to walk up to the middle of the House chamber if they want to flip their votes. But this time, they got spared that walk of shame. In this case, the electronic voting machines kept running after the amendment amassed enough support to pass, letting members change their votes in secret.
Maloney told reporters that he approached McCarthy on the floor and asked him why he was trying to keep the amendment from passing.
“I said, ‘Kevin you can do this, you don’t have to twist people’s arms,’” Maloney said. “And he told me to get back on my own side. And I said, ‘What side am I supposed to stand on to support equality? Your own members are voting for this bill—it’s not me doing it, it’s your members.”
Many Republicans supported Maloney, and were appalled by McCarthy’s actions to block the amendment. In the end, 29 Republicans and all 183 Democrats present voted for it. But McCarthy got enough Republicans to flip their votes that the amendment failed to pass by just one vote—212 yeas and 213 nays.
Rep. Mark Takano, a California Democrat, told reporters he heard Republican Rep. Bob Dold vent to Maloney on the floor.
“This is bullshit,” Dold said, according to Takano.
Reached for comment by The Daily Beast, a spokesperson for Dold didn’t dispute Takano’s recollection.
Maloney said about a dozen other Republicans approached him on the floor to criticize McCarthy’s move.
Democratic Minority Whip Steny Hoyer’s press office tweeted that seven Republicans changed their votes on the amendment from “yea” to “nay”: Reps. Jeff Denham, Greg Walden, Darrell Issa, Mimi Walters, Bruce Poliquin, David Young, and David Valadao.
The Daily Beast reached out to the offices listed for comment. None replied to explain why they changed their votes. But influential conservative outside groups may have had a thing or two to do with it; Heritage Action, the lobbying arm of the powerful conservative Heritage Foundation, issued a statement saying members who voted for Maloney’s amendment would see their ratings on the group’s scorecard suffer.
Maloney told reporters after the vote that he would consider giving the amendment another shot. But McCarthy’s dogged opposition could make that tough; he showed he’s willing to go to great lengths to block LGBT protections.
—with additional reporting by Andrew Desiderio.