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|Election: National results dim prospects for LGBT legislation|
|by Lisa Keen|
|November 12, 2010 00:00|
For two years, Democrats held the White House and the majority in both chambers of Congress. The window of opportunity for eliminating federal laws that treated LGBT Americans as second-class citizens was open. The window of opportunity for passing federal legislation to provide equal benefits of citizenship was open.
Some hoped the windows might be open for as long as eight years. But last week’s midterm elections are shutting those windows now — in fewer than eight weeks.
Republicans won back a majority of the U.S. House and it is an even more conservative Republican majority than LGBT citizens experienced in 1993 when Congress passed the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” ban on gays in the military. Democrat Tom Foley was Speaker of the House then, Richard Gephardt was Majority Leader. It is even more conservative than the 1996 Congress that passed the Defense of Marriage Act. Republican Newt Gingrich was Speaker then, aided by Dick Armey.
“Our opportunities have mostly vanished with our inaction over the last two years,” said longtime gay Democratic activist David Mixner on his blog davidmixner.com, “and we face a tough new world.”
“Clearly the paradigm has changed on Election Day. What is very clear is that is the national strategy of a delaying votes on our action items for freedom over the last two years turned out to be disastrous mistake,” Mixner said.
“Many of us urgently begged for our president and our national organizations not to delay action or we would face a new Congress. Well, that is exactly what happened although no one could have forecast the landslide that took place.”
Field of zeros
In 1993, there were 258 Democrats in the majority. In 1996, there were 230 Republicans in the majority. In 2011, there will be at least 239 Republicans (eight races are still undecided at press time) and many of them are of an emerging Tea Party wing that is pushing the party more strongly toward an uncompromising right-wing ideology.
In 1993, there were 57 Democrats in the Senate. In 1996, there were 52 Republicans. In 2011, there will be 53 Democrats, but the Senate of today is one of deliberate obstructionism. The Republican minority has, with 41 votes, been repeatedly blocking consideration of even routine legislation in order to demand votes on amendments that it knows the majority will object to. And in 2011, Republicans will have 47 votes.
The horse race for who will lead the Republicans in the House is really more of a dog-and-pony show. Everyone fully expects ranking minority leader John Boehner of Ohio will become Speaker of the House and his sidekick Eric Cantor of Virginia will become Majority Leader. Both men have earned a score of zero from the Human Rights Campaign in the past three Congressional sessions.
Kevin McCarthy of California appears to be on his way to election as the third-ranking GOP leader, called the majority whip. And Tea Party darling Michele Bachmann of Minnesota is kicking up some dust in her bid for the fourth-ranking Republican leadership position, that of GOP Conference Chair. Most establishment Republican senators seem to want Jeb Hensarling of Dallas, Texas, to have the job. All three have HRC scores of zero, for every Congressional session they have served.
As a Minnesota state senator in the mid-2000s, Bachmann did distinguish herself with repeated efforts to pass an amendment to the state constitution to ban same-sex marriage there. And if successful in snaring the leadership position, her ascension could signal an even harsher atmosphere against LGBT people. The position as GOP Conference Chair helps determine committee assignments and set legislative priorities for House Republicans.
No surprise, then, that LGBT political observers have nothing good to say about the coming congressional session.
“The prospects of passing ENDA and repealing DOMA and DADT are slim to none,” Mixner said on his blog. “No matter what the military report says in December, the Republicans in Congress are not about to allow LGBT citizens into the military.”
Back to defense
Nan Hunter, longtime gay legal activist, said the LGBT community must “go back to playing defense in Congress.”
“Bills that seemed like viable prospects a few months ago — ENDA, the Domestic Partners Benefits & Obligations Act — are seriously dead, perhaps for years,” said Hunter.
“[An] administration that was timid and gun-shy on LGBT issues to begin with will now face the prospect of Republicans using their new House majority to initiate many, many oversight hearings and investigations. Most of these will probably center on financial issues and health reform, but the GOP base may want some action on social issues as well.”
Alex Nicholson of Servicemembers United was less pessimistic concerning the chances for repealing DADT. On his website, he said he expects a “handful of angry and unreasonable Republicans will certainly try to obstruct, but the key to success is going to be striking a deal with a few moderate and reasonable Republicans to proceed on the bill. The McCain contingent should be irrelevant to securing that agreement.”
But Republican Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) is reportedly “in talks” with Democratic Sen. Carl Levin, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee. And reports suggest they are discussing the possibility of removing DADT repeal language from the defense authorization bill.
The White House released a statement Monday night saying it “opposes any effort to strip ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ from the National Defense Authorization Act.” And President Obama said last week that he thinks there will be enough time, “potentially,” to repeal DADT in the lame-duck Congress. But not many are buying that hope.
“Yes, well potentially, I could win the lottery,” said blogger Pam Spaulding at pamshouseblend.com, “but the above statement is practically meaningless. It would have been enlightening to hear President Obama address the demoralized base, particularly those LGBTs who advocated for action in the first two years, knowing that midterms would suck all the air out of ‘change.’
“But of course, those who ‘knew better’ kept telling us that ‘It’s only been __ months since he’s been in office; he has a lot on his plate.’ It was the excuse to give him a pass. ”
Top photo: The White House released a statement Nov. 8 saying it opposes stripping ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ repeal from the National Defense Authorization Act, and
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