The floor of the U.S. House of Representatives descended into brief chaos Thursday morning following the defeat of an amendment on religious freedom.
Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Vista; Rep. Jeff Denham, R-Atwater; Rep. Mimi Walters, R-Laguna Niguel; and Rep. David Valadao, R-Hanford, switched their votes from yea to nay on stripping discriminatory language out of a defense authorization bill after the clock ran out on their time to vote, according to the office of Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco. It was unclear why Republicans were allowed to switch their votes while Democrats chanted “Shame! Shame!”
If the amendment had been declared approved or defeated right after the clock ran out, it would’ve been approved by a vote of 217-206.
The amendment, proposed by Rep. Sean Maloney, D-N.Y., would have prohibited the use of federal funds to enforce a provision that was part of the Defense Authorization Act, passed by the House on Wednesday night.
The provision overturned an executive order by President Barack Obama, saying religious institutions that receive federal contracts and grants cannot be discriminated against on the basis of religion. Conservatives believed the provision would protect religious liberty, but Maloney and other Democrats said it was against the LGBT community, because religious institutions would be able to fire employees based on their sexual orientation or gender identity while receiving government funds.
Maloney’s amendment would have effectively repealed that provision.
The vote was still open. Happens often, even after time runs out.
Matt Sparks, spokesman for House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy
“House Republicans’ outrageous and cowardly actions today utterly expose the reality of their hateful agenda,” Pelosi said. “The American people will not forget how hard Republicans worked to target LGBT Americans for discrimination.”
Issa, Denham and Walters did not respond to request for comment on the allegations that they changed their votes. Valadao’s press secretary, Anna Vetter, declined to comment on his behalf.
Matt Sparks, a spokesman for House Majority Whip Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Bakersfield, defended the last-minute vote changes.
“The vote was still open,” he said. “Happens often, even after time runs out.”
Democrats used social media accounts to further criticize their Republican counterparts following the controversial vote.
Reps. Ami Bera, D-Elk Grove; Janice Hahn, D-Los Angeles; Mike Honda, D-San Jose; Alan Lowenthal, D-Long Beach; and Mark Takano, D-Riverside, were among state lawmakers who spoke out on Twitter.
“I have many words to describe what transpired on the floor today,” Takano said. “*Shame* is the only one I can use in public.”
California lawmakers tasked with shepherding the defense authorization bill through the legislative process say they anticipate that the discriminatory language will be stripped from the bill before it reaches President Barack Obama, rendering moot the last-minute vote switch. Rep. Susan Davis, D-San Diego, and Rep. Loretta Sanchez, D-Santa Ana, both House Armed Services Committee members, expect to confer with Senate leaders in the coming months and put the final touches on the legislation. House and Senate lawmakers craft two versions of the defense authorization bill every year and then merge those two bills together during a closed-door conference.
“I’ve been in every conference committee for the last 20 years and there’s been no bigger fighter in there with respect to equality both for women and LGBT and minorities and everybody else than Loretta Sanchez,” Sanchez said. “So we will get into that conference committee and we will endeavor to fix the language, just as we tried to fix it today on the floor.”
“I believe that this isn’t going to see the light of day in the Senate,” Davis said. “I could be wrong, but I really don’t think it will.”