WASHINGTON – Conservatives angered by the inclusion of LGBT protections in an otherwise routine spending bill scuttled the measure Thursday, a stark display of the potency of a civil rights issue suddenly prominent in the presidential race and responsible for a legal standoff between the Obama administration and several states.
The sweeping 305-112 vote to kill an energy spending measure imperils efforts by GOP leaders to pass any more of the 12 annual spending bills for the upcoming budget year.
The implosion came after Democrats managed late Wednesday to add an amendment protecting lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people against discrimination by federal contractors. The provision, which passed on a 223-195 vote, was aimed aimed at upholding an Obama administration executive order.
That provision prompted more than half of House Republicans to vote against the bill's passage on Thursday.
Meanwhile, Democrats overwhelmingly opposed the bill over a GOP provision they said defends North Carolina's transgender bathroom law, which also takes away a variety of federal protections for LGBT people.
The Obama administration has filed suit against the law and has threatened to take away federal funding for the state, and Republicans muscled through a provision to ensure that federal dollars are not taken away.
The hostility from both tea party lawmakers and Democrats could scuttle the entire appropriations process, just as a controversy over the Confederate flag sank the process last year.
"House Republicans' thirst to discriminate against the LGBT community is so strong that they are willing to vote down their own appropriations bill in order to prevent progress over bigotry," said minority leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. "In turning against a far-reaching funding bill simply because it affirms protections for LGBT Americans, Republicans have once again lain bare the depths of their bigotry."
But it was Pelosi who led a charge by Democrats against a provision to protect North Carolina from retaliation by several federal agencies over the law requiring transgender people to use the bathroom of their original sex. That provision was approved late Wednesday on a 227-192 vote.
Moments after the bill failed, Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., blamed the outcome on Democrats, even though a majority of Republicans voted against the bill. He also said it was also a result of the more open procedures he's instituted in the House.
"Early on I stood up here ... and said that some bills might fail because we're not going to tightly control the process and predetermine the outcome of everything around here. We'll, that's what happened here today," Ryan said.
"What we learned today is that the Democrats were not looking to advance an issue but to sabotage the appropriations process," he said.
He vowed to revive the bill and the overall appropriations process.
The amendment to protect North Carolina, authored Rep. Robert Pittenger, R-N.C., came in response to warnings from the Obama administration that it may take away federal money in response to the bathroom law.
"The president and his emissaries have stated ... that funds should not be dispensed to North Carolina until North Carolina is coerced into complying with the legal beliefs of the president and his political views," Pittenger said. "This is an egregious abuse of executive power."
The North Carolina law was passed after the city of Charlotte passed an ordinance allowing transgender people to use restrooms of their chosen gender identity. The state law went further to take away federal protections for gays, putting the state at risk of losing a variety of federal funds.