Here’s what I can confirm: Mike Capuano, Katherine Clark, Jim McGovern, and Seth Moulton were among those chanting “shame” on the floor of the House of Representatives; Steve Lynch did not. Joe Kennedy booed but might not have chanted.
It was that kind of a week.
The House of Representatives passed two big pieces of legislation relating to the military last week, and as usual, the interesting action took place in small, sometimes even symbolic battles. One of those battles led to that scene of enraged Democrats chanting.
It took place on Thursday, during consideration of what’s colloquially known as “MilCon-VA”—the bill to appropriate funds for military construction and the Veterans Administration.
Democrats, and some Republicans, were upset because Republican leaders had slipped a provision into the week’s other big bill, the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), intended to protect “religious freedom” of those who receive federal contracts.
Others argued that this would counteract President Barack Obama’s executive order barring contractors from discriminating against LGBT workers. But, they were unable to get an amendment voted on during the NDAA floor process—in fact, Republicans on the Rules Committee had infuriated Democrats at the start of the week by barring dozens of NDAA amendments from consideration.
So, after NDAA passed on Wednesday, New York Democrat Sean Patrick Maloney offered an amendment to MilCon-VA, to specifically ban LGBT discrimination by contractors.
That amendment came to a House vote on Thursday, and more than 30 Republicans joined a unanimous Democratic caucus—so that at one point there were 217 “Yea” votes showing, which was enough to pass.
But Republican leaders—apparently worried that inclusion of this provision would imperil passage of the overall MilCon-VA bill—kept the vote open until, amazingly enough, the Yea votes dropped to 212 and the amendment failed by one vote.
Compounding the sense of string-pulling shenanigans, a procedural ploy allowed the vote-switchers to do so from the anonymity of their seats, rather than going up to the clerk as would normally be the case (one of the reversers turned out to be Republican Bruce Poliquin of Maine).
As the vote tally showed the win turn to a loss, the usual decorum in the chamber gave way to shouts, loud boos, and finally a chant of “Shame! Shame! Shame!”
Three Massachusetts Democrats have not yet responded to my inquiries; four, as noted above, admit to having joined that chorus; and one, Kennedy, confesses to booing but not chanting. Lynch, though he agrees that “the whole episode was shameful,” tells me in a statement that “I don’t think yelling at people in public helps.”
All nine Massachusetts House members voted against passage of MilCon-VA itself, for other reasons. And all but Moulton voted against NDAA as well. Moulton posted an explanation of that vote on Medium.
Obama’s office issued alengthy list of criticisms, suggesting that NDAA would be vetoed as the House passed it. It, and MilCon-VA, are expected to undergo significant changes in the Senate.
In other words, none of what happened this week was final. Still, it offered opportunities to see where Democrats, who often vote the same way on the final bills, disagree on particulars as they come up in amendments.
Some of this week’s examples, on the two military bills:
Medical marijuana. An amendment from Earl Blumenauer of Oregon sought to allow doctors at VA hospitals to recommend medical marijuana to patients, in states where that treatment is legal. Massachusetts is one such state, and seven of the state’s House members voted in favor of the measure, which passed.
The two dissenters were both former prosecutors: Bill Keating and Kennedy. They were among just five Democrats in the entire House voting against the amendment.
Kennedy’s office tells me that he “believes no one drug should be exempt from the FDA’s review and approval process.” He wants federal regulators to work toward a national medical marijuana policy, but opposes piecemeal measures before that happens.
Repealing AUMF. McGovern has fought without success to get Congress to vote on a new Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) specific to current operations, particularly against ISIS. But a Barbara Lee amendment was allowed, that would have forced the issue by repealing the 2001 AUMF that has been used to justify all anti-terrorism fighting for 15 years.
McGovern and five others in the Massachusetts delegation voted for Lee’s amendment, but Bill Keating, Steve Lynch, and Moulton voted no. Moulton supports a new AUMF, but doesn’t want to eliminate the old one until a new one is in place. Lynch, similarly, says that the Lee plan doesn’t provide enough time to enact a new AUMF: he has previously supported a repeal with a 12 month sunset period, but this version would take effect after just 90 days.
“This would have left us incapable of confronting the Islamic State,” Lynch told me in a statement. “It would have created chaos for our allies in the region at a very critical moment with the battle for Mosul expected to begin soon and U.S. Air support and select artillery units expected to serve in strategic roles.”
Expanding role in Afghanistan. The same trio, of Keating, Lynch, and Moulton, voted to retain an NDAA section calling on Obama to expand the U.S. military role in Afghanistan. The other six voted in favor of an amendment seeking to remove that language from the bill.
Moulton’s office tells me that he supported that “sense of Congress” language, because a deterioration of the situation in Afghanistan requires, in his opinion, an ongoing U.S. presence to ensure that “the country does not again become a safe haven for terrorists.
Cutting Defense budget. Only about a third of Democrats voted in favor of an amendment seeking to reduce the Department of Defense budget by one percent (with some exemptions). It made for some odd bedfellows: offered by Colorado Democrat Jared Polis, the amendment was supported by the conservative National Taxpayers Union.
In the Massachusetts delegation, three reliable peacenik liberals—Capuano, Clark, and McGovern—were joined in supporting the Polis amendment by the more fiscally conservative Keating. Kennedy, Lynch, Moulton, Richie Neal, and Niki Tsongas were with the majority voting against it.
Military equipment for border security. Ted Poe of Texas offered an amendment, which passed with overwhelming Republican support, that seeks to transfer more excess military equipment—including Humvees, night-vision goggles, and drones—to local border-security law enforcement agencies.
Only 10 Democrats voted in favor of it; Lynch was the only one from Massachusetts.
“Congressional appropriations for custom and border security personnel and equipment has been consistently and severely underfunded,” Lynch explains. “We spent billions of taxpayer dollars on that equipment, and some of it… can be reprogrammed for civilian use.”