Action postponed on job protections

Measure to roll back Clinton order will shift to different bill

by Lou Chibarro, Jr., The Washington Blade
July 17, 1998 Facebook Twitter LinkedIn Blogger Tumblr

US Rep. Joel Hefley (R-CO) agreed Wednesday, July 15, to postpone plans to introduce an anti-gay amendment to an appropriations bill this week after several of his Republican colleagues told him that doing so would be a personal "affront" to openly gay Rep. Jim Kolbe (R-AZ).

According to knowledgeable sources on Capitol Hill, Republican House members reminded Hefley that Kolbe, as chair of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Treasury, Postal Service, and General Government would be the floor manager of the bill to which Hefley planned to attach his amendment.

"They told him it would put them in an awkward position," said one GOP staffer. Hefley's amendment seeks to overturn President Clinton's May 28th executive order banning job discrimination against civilian gay federal employees. Hefley, saying he never intended to insult Kolbe, told House GOP leaders he now plans to introduce his amendment to another appropriations bill scheduled to reach the House floor next week. He first announced plans to introduce his amendment in a "Dear Colleague" letter three weeks ago.

Kolbe stated one week later that he strongly opposes Hefley's amendment. Kolbe vowed to fight the amendment if Hefley tried to attach it to the fiscal year 1999 US Postal Service-Department of Treasury appropriations bill. The House was debating that bill as the Blade went to press yesterday.

Staff members to both Republican and Democratic House members agreed to discuss the behind-the-scenes talks that led to Hefley's temporary withdrawal of his amendment on the condition that they not be identified. Republican staffers said rank-and-file GOP House members joined forces with House Republican leaders – including House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA) – in persuading Hefley that introducing his amendment to a bill closely tied to Kolbe would put Kolbe's colleagues in an uncomfortable situation.

Kolbe, a 13-year House veteran and a staunch fiscal conservative, is well liked by his Republican colleagues. At least some Republicans would likely vote against a Hefley amendment linked to the Postal-Treasury bill out of respect for Kolbe, even though they support it in principle, according to at least two House GOP staffers.

Leigh LaMora, Hefley's press secretary, told the Blade that respect for Kolbe was among the factors that prompted Hefley to back of on his amendment this week. But LaMora said a key factor leading to the postponement was also Hefley's decision to rewrite his amendment to broaden its scope to cover all federal workers, not just executive branch workers. LaMora said that attaching the amendment to the Postal-Treasury appropriations bill would have limited its coverage to just executive branch workers.

She said Hefley plans to introduce his amendment to an appropriations bill that funds the Departments of Commerce, Justice, and State as well as the federal court system and more than a dozen other federal agencies. The House is expected to begin deliberations on that bill late next week. "We get a lot more out of it by going with the Commerce-Justice bill," LaMora said.

Ironically, Kolbe serves as the second-ranking Republican member of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, State, the Judiciary, and Related Federal Agencies, which is in charge of the bill to which Hefley now plans to attach his amendment. Rep. Harold Rogers (R-KY), the chair of that subcommittee, has worked closely with Kolbe in preparing the Commerce-Justice appropriations bill.

Meanwhile, knowledgeable House Democratic staffers, while agreeing that some Republicans viewed the Hefley amendment as an insult Kolbe, said the real reason GOP leaders wanted Hefley to call off the amendment this week was to avoid the embarrassment of having Kolbe, a well-respected subcommittee chair opposing an amendment backed by GOP leaders. Among those who have signed on as a supporter of the Hefley amendment is Rep. Tom DeLay (R-TX), the House Majority Whip.

"It was becoming a public relations nightmare for them," said a high-level Democratic staffer.

Hefley's decision this week to postpone offering his amendment came two weeks after gay civil rights groups began a national lobbying campaign to oppose the Hefley amendment. Among the Washington, DC-based groups opposing the amendment are Log Cabin Republicans, a national gay Republican group, and the National Gay and Lesbian Taks Force.

Rich Tafel, Log Cabin's executive director, said he believes Hefley's motive for withholding his amendment this week had more to do with his determination that he lacked the votes to pass it rather than a desire to be respectful to Kolbe.

"It was an insult to Kolbe to propose this in the first place," said Tafel.

Tafel said he and other Log Cabin officials were contacting each of the 74 House Republicans who have adopted hiring policies of non-discrimination based on sexual orientation for their own congressional staffs. Tafel said Log Cabin is urging these House members to oppose the Hefley amendment, telling them that the Hefley amendment telling them that the Clinton executive order gives federal workers merely the same job protections that these House members have already given the employees in their own offices.

The Clinton order, known as Executive Order 13087, added the term "sexual orientation" to an existing executive order that bars discrimination against federal civilian workers on grounds of race, color, religion, sex, national origin, disabiities, and age. Federal personnel experts note that the Clinton order strengthens job protections for gay federal workers that were put in effect years earlier as a result of court rulings and civil service policies.

Republican President Gerald Ford became the first president to formalize court rulings banning anti-gay discrimination against federal civilian workers through a 1975 policy change in the then US Civil Service Commission.

Hefley's amendment, as written two weeks ago, called for overturning the Clinton order by prohibiting the expenditure of any funds to "implement, administer, or enforce" the order. Members of the House have disclosed whether or not they have office policies banning anti-gay employment discrimination in response to a questionnaire the Human Rights Campaign sends routinely to each member of Congress. According to HRC, 74 House Republicans (32 percent of all House Republicans) disclosed that they have such a policy.