Rep. Luke Messer, R-Ind.,  said he will in­tro­duce a bill this week com­batting Pres­id­ent Obama’s re­cent dir­ect­ive.

Rep. Luke Messer, R-Ind., said he will in­tro­duce a bill this week com­batting Pres­id­ent Obama’s re­cent dir­ect­ive. Andrew Harnik/AP

Hill GOP Ready to Enter Fray Over Transgender Bathrooms

Several Republicans want to take on the Obama administration over its edict to school districts, but not everyone in the party agrees.

House Re­pub­lic­ans are pre­par­ing to wade in­to the fight over trans­gender bath­room use in pub­lic schools.

Rep. Luke Mess­er, the fifth-highest-rank­ing elec­ted House Re­pub­lic­an lead­er, said he will in­tro­duce a bill this week com­batting Pres­id­ent Obama’s re­cent dir­ect­ive that pub­lic schools al­low trans­gender youth to use bath­rooms cor­res­pond­ing with their gender iden­tity.

“We made it 240 years as a na­tion without any fed­er­al re­stroom po­lice, so why start now?” said Mess­er, an In­di­ana Re­pub­lic­an. “To me this should be a loc­al de­cision. We don’t need the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment strong-arm­ing loc­al schools.”

Obama’s dir­ect­ive threatens to with­hold fund­ing from loc­al school dis­tricts if they do not com­ply. But Mess­er said his bill would dis­al­low that, and pro­hib­it the De­part­ments of Edu­ca­tion or Justice from im­ple­ment­ing rules and reg­u­la­tions re­gard­ing bath­room use.

“I don’t think this so­cial ex­per­i­ment should start in our classrooms,” he said.

Still, Mess­er said he has not yet spoken with top con­gres­sion­al lead­ers, in­clud­ing Speak­er Paul Ry­an, about the bill.

A Ry­an aide said, “Speak­er Ry­an be­lieves this is a state and loc­al is­sue and the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment should re­spect that.” But the aide did not an­swer wheth­er Ry­an sup­ports le­gis­lat­ive ac­tion on the mat­ter or in­stead be­lieves the is­sue should be left to the courts. The DOJ has sued North Car­o­lina, and the state has coun­ter­sued over its law man­dat­ing bath­room use cor­res­pond with birth gender, not gender iden­tity.

As the House be­gins con­sid­er­a­tion of its first ap­pro­pri­ations bill later this week, mem­bers of both parties will have ample op­por­tun­it­ies to push the trans­gender-bath­room is­sue on the House floor with or without lead­ers’ sign-off. Re­pub­lic­an Study Com­mit­tee Chair­man Bill Flores said he has spoken to sev­er­al mem­bers about the is­sue and ex­pects amend­ments to be pro­posed to spend­ing bills in at­tempts to block the De­part­ments of Justice and Edu­ca­tion from im­ple­ment­ing the dir­ect­ive.

“What this is about is fol­low­ing the rule of law and fol­low­ing the Con­sti­tu­tion, so I think we’ll have le­gis­lat­ive ac­tion to stop the pres­id­ent’s and his re­lated agen­cies’ at­tempts to cir­cum­vent the law,” Flores said.

It is not clear wheth­er Demo­crats in­tend to force the is­sue as well. Rep. Mike Honda, a Cali­for­nia Demo­crat whose grand­daugh­ter is trans­gender, said he will look in­to of­fer­ing amend­ments that would man­date all-gender re­strooms in gov­ern­ment build­ings.

Mean­while, GOP Rep. Mark Walk­er of North Car­o­lina, a former Baptist min­is­ter, said he has writ­ten a let­ter to the De­part­ment of Edu­ca­tion ask­ing for cla­ri­fic­a­tion on Obama’s dir­ect­ive. He said his con­cern is the leg­ally “dan­ger­ous situ­ation” it puts teach­ers in if they use their dis­cre­tion to dis­al­low stu­dents from us­ing bath­rooms that do not cor­res­pond with their birth gender. Based on their an­swer, he said, he may also in­tro­duce le­gis­la­tion.

“Let’s say we have a 17-year-old who all of a sud­den one week tells her that he’s go­ing through this gender-flu­id trans­form­a­tion, that he now needs to use the fe­male lock­er rooms. The teach­er may say, ‘Well, listen, I have a con­cern with that. I’m not go­ing to let you do that,’” Walk­er said. “Does that bring Title IX in? Does that pro­tect the school board? Does she have any re­course of pro­tec­tion?”

Rep. Mark Takano, an openly gay Cali­for­nia Demo­crat who has been vo­cal about LGBT rights, said that on the con­trary, the dir­ect­ive is about the pro­tec­tion of vul­ner­able stu­dents, and that he and oth­er Demo­crats would fight back against any such le­gis­la­tion.

“It’s not about ex­per­i­ment­ing on the schools; it’s about schools ac­com­mod­at­ing and re­spect­ing a vul­ner­able minor­ity,” Takano said. “This is the polit­ic­al op­por­tunism of so­cial con­ser­vat­ives tak­ing ad­vant­age of a re­l­at­ively less­er-un­der­stood group of people.”

Re­pub­lic­ans, however, be­lieve that it is the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion that has turned a loc­al is­sue in­to a na­tion­al polit­ic­al mat­ter. Rep. Tom Cole, who chairs the ap­pro­pri­ations sub­com­mit­tee with over­sight of the De­part­ment of Edu­ca­tion, said he would wel­come amend­ments tar­get­ing Obama’s dir­ect­ive.

“This is a cheap polit­ic­al drive-by shoot­ing, and it’ll have con­sequences,” Cole said. “I think this is a fight that the ad­min­is­tra­tion wanted to pick. It’s cer­tainly not a hard fight for me to en­gage in be­cause I think it’s an in­cred­ible gov­ern­ment­al over­reach. We don’t have any busi­ness telling every school dis­trict in Amer­ica what their bath­room policy ought to be.”

Still, some Re­pub­lic­ans may not be com­fort­able en­ga­ging the ad­min­is­tra­tion in a le­gis­lat­ive fight that can be ex­ploited for polit­ic­al pur­poses. Rep. Trent Franks said he is in­censed by the dir­ect­ive, call­ing it “ar­rog­ant” and “a dis­grace bey­ond ex­pres­sion.” But he said the courts may be the best re­course for op­pon­ents of the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s move.

“I think the fact that the state is su­ing in court on con­sti­tu­tion­al bases that are very sound could be the most ef­fect­ive way to beat this back,” he said.

Fur­ther­more, there is not un­an­im­ity in the House Re­pub­lic­an Con­fer­ence. Rep. Ileana Ros-Le­htin­en of Flor­ida, for in­stance, has a trans­gender son and has been out­spoken in fa­vor of rights for the LGBT com­munity, even cut­ting re­cent ads in Span­ish and Eng­lish ur­ging ac­cept­ance of trans­gender people.

“Every trans­gender per­son is part of someone’s fam­ily and should be treated with com­pas­sion and pro­tec­ted from dis­crim­in­a­tion,” she said in the ad.