- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 19, 2016

The House defeated a gay rights measure by a single vote Thursday, prompting Democrats to loudly chant, “Shame! Shame!” from the chamber floor and lash out at GOP leaders who they accused of bending the rules to orchestrate the defeat.

Democrats said Republican leaders allowed too much time for the vote, and used the extra minutes to get some GOP lawmakers to secretly switch from “Yes” to “No,” dooming the move.

The uproar centered on an amendment by Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, New York Democrat, to one of the annual spending bills that would have nullified language in another bill passed earlier this week that said the government cannot discriminate against religious groups that receive federal contracts.

Democrats fear discrimination against gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender employees in the civilian federal workforce.

During voting on Mr. Maloney’s amendment, supporters appeared to have won, 217-209. But Republicans then got some of their members to switch and oppose the move, and the opponents prevailed, 213-212.

They switched on the electronic voting machine, but didn’t come to the front of the House and announce their changes — something Democrats said was a breach of usual practice.

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Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California called the episode “outrageous and cowardly,” and Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland said he had a list of those he said switched, though he declined to read the names out on the floor.

Democratic aides later, however, did identify the names: Reps. Jeff Denham, Darrell Issa, David Valadao and Mimi Walters of California, Greg Walden of Oregon, Bruce Poliquin of Maine and David Young of Iowa.

“There’s a record. My staff told me 24 years ago, ‘If you flip-flop, congressman, it isn’t like the last vote is the only one that people are going to know about,’” said Rep. Luis Gutierrez, Illinois Democrat.

Republicans said the vote may have been unusual, but no rules were broken.

“It is not unusual to have people who vote and change their vote,” said Rep. Pete Sessions, chairman of the Rules Committee. “The rules were followed, despite, perhaps, different procedural ways.”

He said the House had already voted earlier in the week to approve the bill containing the religious freedom language, and he said Republicans who switched their votes likely realized in the middle that they’d already settled the issue.

He also disputed Democrats’ characterization of the vote as support for discrimination.

“I am a Republican. We do not discriminate,” he said.

For his part, Mr. Poliquin said he abhors discrimination “in any form” and supported the GOP language because it is narrowly tailored to religious institutions and mirrors language in the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

“I am outraged that political opponents or members of the press would claim or insinuate that I cast a vote due to pressure or party politics,” he said. “No one controls my vote.”

His defense didn’t stop Democrats from blasting the GOP as a pack of “haters” and “bigots.”

“I understand that sometimes we’re in the business of arm-twisting, but twisting people’s arms so that they can be haters has never happened before on the floor of this House,” Rep. Steve Israel, New York Democrat, said.

Rep. Bill Flores, Texas Republican, said those charges were “beyond the pale.”

“This country has a First Amendment that protects religious liberties,” he said, “that’s all we were doing.”

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