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Some senior House Democrats are privately anxious that GOP floor antics on Friday could jeopardize the fate of a sweeping bill to shield LGBTQ people from discrimination.
Democratic leaders have been doing everything they can to beat back the Republican procedural efforts to kill the legislation, according to multiple lawmakers and aides.
A research institute that focuses on religious issues was brought in to deliver a PowerPoint presentation to a closed-door whips meeting Thursday to ease potential anxieties about voter opposition to the legislation. The whip team, too, has been working all week to reinforce support from across the caucus.
All but one House Democrat, Rep. Dan Lipinski (D-Ill.), has already cosponsored the bill — and he too has said he’ll vote for the measure — guaranteeing passage on the floor assuming Republicans don’t succeed in attaching a poison pill.
But party unity will be tested as GOP leaders yet again to squeeze the caucus’ moderates with a politically painful vote that could hurt them back home or derail the legislation altogether.
“I told leadership we needed to worry,” said Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.), a co-chair of House Democrats’ messaging arm. Dingell said she’s confident Democrats will prevail but wanted to take the temperature of the caucus this week to avoid a potential embarrassment on the floor.
The GOP procedural votes, known as motions to recommit, could force Democrats’ most vulnerable members to go on the record on contentious issues from federal funding of abortion to parental consent for gender reassignment.
“We anticipate, of course, there will be an MTR. But I think people understand that an MTR is essentially a vote against the Equality Act,” said Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.), the chief sponsor of the bill.
With dozens of freshmen in battleground seats willing to buck the party on these votes, the GOP’s tactics have been a perpetual frustration for leadership. But the stakes are higher Friday because Democratic leaders, as well as some outside advocacy groups, have vetoed the idea of allowing amendments to the bill. They are loath to risk modifications that could alienate some members of the caucus.
“If you have an open floor process on something as sensitive as this, one amendment could bring the whole thing down,” a senior aide to the moderate wing of the party said.
But that move also undercuts Democratic leaders’ recent strategy to keep members in line. In recent weeks, top Democrats have tried to anticipate what motion Republicans would offer and hold votes on similar amendments ahead of time to provide vulnerable lawmakers with political cover. With Democrats prohibiting any amendments on the floor, that safety valve doesn’t exist.
The bill, known as the Equality Act, would prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity in housing, employment, credit and the jury system, among other areas. The legislation is unlikely to get far in the Republican-controlled Senate, but it’s a top priority for the new Democratic majority in the House.
"Every Democrat will be voting for this bill on Friday. We are very excited about that,” Pelosi said during her weekly news conference Thursday. “This will be a banner vote for us on Friday, and we hope that it will be bipartisan as well.”
After Thursday’s whip meeting, lawmakers strolled out with white folders emblazoned with the research center’s logo and data showing that most Americans, including religious voters, are supportive of LGBTQ rights, according to members present.
At the end of the presentation, one Democrat in the room specifically brought up the motions to recommit, pointing out that religious rights could be one of the GOP’s targets on Friday.
Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-N.Y.) said the presentation from the Public Religion Research Institute was notable, with public opinion strongly supportive of expanding civil rights to LGBTQ people.
“That’s the kind of message that we talked about,” Meeks said. “And I know that we will be — and I’ll be — talking to some of my other colleagues about [it] as we try to whip, staying focused on what the goal is here, which is the right thing to do.”
Democrats have successfully fended off every GOP procedural vote since late February, when the caucus suffered an embarrassing defeat on an immigration amendment. Because roughly two dozen Democrats crossed the aisle, Republican language targeting undocumented immigrants was added to the party’s universal background checks bill.
It was a huge embarrassment to party leaders and led to some discussion of changing the rules or even eliminating the motion to recommit altogether. Democrats have declined to take such steps, but the prospect of divisions still looms large.
Pelosi has scolded defectors in her party, telling lawmakers behind closed doors that Congress is “not a day at the beach.”
But more than a dozen Democratic moderates have continued to buck their party on the floor on certain votes.
Two weeks ago, 14 Democrats voted with Republicans on an amendment that stated that U.S. climate policies should not result in a net loss of jobs to China. And in mid-April, 13 Democrats voted in favor of adding language to a net neutrality bill to disavow any kind of tax on the internet.
“The most important message we’re trying to deliver to our colleagues is: don’t get caught in this trap,” said Rep. Dan Kildee (D-Mich.), a member of the Democratic whip team.
“I think we’ve been doing a lot better with it, but every one is a new fight,” Kildee said.
Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine