TIME Libya

Democrats, Republicans Spar Over Benghazi Investigation

Trey Gowdy, Elijah Cummings
Trey Gowdy, left, chairman of the House Select Committee on Benghazi, and Elijah Cummings, the ranking member, confer as the panel holds its first public hearing to investigate the 2012 attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, on Sept. 17, 2014 J. Scott Applewhite—AP

Finger pointing and accusations of political grandstanding mar the third public hearing on the investigations into the Benghazi attacks

(WASHINGTON, D.C.) — A special House committee investigating the deadly 2012 attacks in Benghazi, Libya, began last year with promises of bipartisanship and cooperation.

Eight months later, the panel has devolved into finger pointing and accusations of political grandstanding and power plays.

As the panel holds its third public hearing Tuesday, Democrats complain that the panel’s Republican chairman has excluded them from crucial steps in the investigation, while Republicans say Democrats are playing politics.

In a strongly worded letter, Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland, the panel’s top Democrat, said the panel’s chairman, Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., has used different standards for Republicans and Democrats and has held secret meetings with witnesses from the State Department and other agencies.

“Perhaps most importantly,” Cummings wrote in a letter last week, Gowdy has “withheld or downplayed information when it undermines the allegations we are investigating.” The Associated Press obtained a copy of the letter and two others sent by Democrats to Gowdy.

Gowdy said in response late Monday that he has the authority to unilaterally subpoena witnesses, but he promised to give Democrats a week’s notice before issuing such a subpoena.

“Bipartisanship is a two-way street,” Gowdy said in a letter to Cummings. “I have known you to be a fair partner and expect for that cooperation to continue.”

Committee spokesman Jamal Ware was less diplomatic.

He said Gowdy was disappointed that Democrats had released “correspondence that attempts to politically characterize sources’ private discussions with the committee.”

As chairman, Gowdy “has operated the Benghazi Committee in a more-than-fair and fact-based manner,” Ware said, adding that Gowdy will continue to address any legitimate Democratic concerns.

“He will not, however, allow the committee’s investigation to be hamstrung by politics.”

Such an outcome appeared increasingly likely, as a bipartisan tone set last May when the 12-member committee was created appeared to dissipate.

Gowdy and Cummings continued the bipartisan tone at a hearing in September and again in December, but behind the scenes have disagreed sharply.

Gowdy has said he will pursue the facts of the Sept. 11, 2012, attack on a U.S. post in eastern Libya that killed Chris Stevens, the U.S. ambassador, and three other Americans.

“Facts are neither Republican nor Democrat,” Gowdy said when the panel was created last May.

Gowdy’s approach has drawn criticism from some conservatives, who accuse him of failing to stand up to what they see as resistance from the Obama administration to produce documents and witnesses related to the events in Benghazi, a topic that has been the subject of numerous congressional investigations.

A report by the House Intelligence Committee report last fall found that the CIA and the military acted properly in responding to the 2012 attacks. Debunking a series of persistent allegations hinting at dark conspiracies, the panel determined there was no intelligence failure, no delay in sending a CIA rescue team, no missed opportunity for a military rescue and no evidence the CIA was covertly shipping arms from Libya to Syria.

Cummings, who has clashed with Republicans such as Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., over Benghazi and other issues, has previously praised Gowdy for a bipartisan approach to the Benghazi inquiry.

But he said in a letter sent Friday that he and his colleagues have grown increasingly concerned that they are being shut out by the GOP majority. Cummings cited a GOP-approved rule that allows Gowdy to meet privately with committee witnesses and unilaterally issue subpoenas for witnesses or documents “without any public discussion or debate, even if there is significant disagreement from other members of the committee.”

He and other Democrats “simply ask for a public debate and a vote by committee members on these actions when there is significant disagreement,” Cummings wrote.

The Jan. 23 letter is the third Democrats have sent to Gowdy since November. None of the letters had previously been made public.

In one letter, dated Nov. 24, Cummings told Gowdy the committee inquiry has “taken a sharp turn for the worse and is becoming what you strenuously insisted it would not – another partisan investigation of the Benghazi attacks that blocks Democrats from meaningful participation.”

Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., said he was “deeply skeptical” that the Benghazi committee would operate fairly, but nonetheless agreed to serve on the panel as one of the Democratic members.

“Now, after learning that we have been excluded from parts of the investigation, and that the majority has held secret interviews with key witnesses and withheld information . I fear this skepticism may have been all too justified,” Schiff said.

He called on Gowdy to lay out the scope of his investigation immediately and adopt a set of rules “that will give Congress and the country the assurance that this will not be yet another politicized and partisan exercise at taxpayer expense.”

TIME People

Why Republicans Run in Cowboy Boots

Cowboy boots are stylish. They give you a little extra height. And they're a good way of signifying that you "get" rural voters. Perhaps that's why they're so popular with Republican politicians.

TIME Environment

The Senate Discovers Climate Change!

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Never noticed that before: Welcome to the conversation, Senators Image Source RF/Ditto; Getty

Jeffrey Kluger is Editor at Large for TIME.

A landslide vote brings Congress's upper chamber into the 21st century—a little

Correction appended, January 24

Surely by now you’ve heard the big news: On Wednesday, the U.S. Senate—The World’s Greatest Deliberative Body Except For the Fact That it Never Really Deliberates Anything—passed a landmark resolution declaring that “climate change is real and is not a hoax.” The proposal passed by a nail-bitingly close vote of 98-1. Only Mississippi’s Roger Wicker, who heads the Senate Republicans’ campaign arm, voted no.

The landslide victory thrilled the green community, especially since it included such anti-science paleoliths as Oklahoma’s James Inhofe and Florida’s Marco (“I’m not a scientist, man”) Rubio. But let’s not get carried away. For one thing, voting to acknowledge a fact that virtually every other sentient human on the planet long ago accepted is a little like passing a bill that declares, “Gravity is real” or “Fire make man hurt.” Not exactly groundbreaking.

What’s more, there was only so far the newly enlightened GOP was willing to go. Votes on two other measures—one that declared “climate change is real and human activity contributes significantly to climate change,” and one that made essentially the same point but without the word “significantly”—were blocked by Republican maneuvering. What’s more, the weak tea version of the resolution that did pass—sponsored by Rhode Island Democrat Sheldon Whitehouse—made it through only because it was a rider to the Keystone XL pipeline legislation. At this point, Republicans would likely approve a Puppies For Lunch rider if it would get Keystone passed.

The Natural Resources Defense Council, among the greenest of the greenies, responded to the GOP’s grudging concession with something less than unalloyed enthusiasm. “From Know-Nothingism to Do-Nothingism in the U.S. Senate,” it declared in a news release. And indeed, the 98 brave men and women who stepped forward to go on record with a statement of the patently obvious have given absolutely no indication that they are actually prepared to do anything about that obvious thing.

The GOP’s big wins in November certainly don’t make them more inclined to yield on what has become a central pillar of party dogma. But if science—to say nothing of the health of the planet—can’t move them, they should at least consider the unsavory company their fringe position is increasingly causing them to keep. Writing in The New York Times, Paul Krugman addressed climate deniers, supply-siders and foes of the Affordable Care Act as one counterfactual whole—people who are fixed in their positions no matter what the objective evidence shows. That may or may not be too wide a net to cast, but Krugman is right on one score:

If you’ve gotten involved in any of these debates, you know that these people aren’t happy warriors; they’re red-faced angry, with special rage directed at know-it-alls who snootily point out that the facts don’t support their position.

Krugman offers any number of explanations for this, with which reasonable people can agree or disagree, but his larger point—of an ideological cohort animated by rage as much as anything else—certainly feels right. I see it regularly in that least scientific but most pointed place of all, my Twitter feed. I’ve crossed swords with the anti-vaccine crowd more than once, and while some of them have found a way to be savagely nasty in the 140 characters they’re allowed, most of the anger is civil. They’re fretful and, I believe, foolish to have been duped by anti-scientific rubbish, but they’re at least fit for inclusion in the public square.

Not so the climate-deniers, who hurl spluttery insults, fill their feeds with the usual swill about President Barack Obama’s suspicious birthplace and the conspiratorial doings across the border in Mexico, and link to risible idiocy about how the global warming “conspiracy” is a “ploy to make us poorer,” whose real purpose is “to redistribute wealth from the first world to the third, an explicit goal of UN climate policy.”

Yes. Of course. Because it’s harder to believe in science than it is to believe that there’s a four-decade plot afoot that virtually every country in the world has signed onto, dragging virtually every scientist in the world along with them—none of whom have ever had a crisis of conscience or spilled the beans in a bar or simply decided to sell the whole sordid story to the press—and that only a rump faction in the U.S. knows the truth. Makes perfect sense.

If the Senate, even reluctantly, has made the tiniest baby step toward rational thought, that’s undeniably a good thing. “It starts by admitting you have a problem, just like many other areas of human life,” Whitehouse told The Hill. Outside the Senate chamber, however, in the country that is second only to coal-soiled China in CO2 emissions, the ugly, vein-in-the-temple anger remains. The GOP can continue to make common cause with this nasty crowd or, if it chooses, can finally, clear-headedly rejoin the ranks of reason.

An earlier version of this story misstated the name of the Natural Resources Defense Council

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME State of the Union 2015

Here’s Where Obama Went Off-Script to Troll Republicans

The State of the Union is carefully scripted, prepared and tweaked for months in advance to make sure the President uses the exact right words for every topic.

But tonight, President Obama couldn’t resist a quick off-book jab at the Republicans cheering on his exit from office.

“I have no more campaigns to run,” Obama says at one point, which prompted laughs and applause from the Republican lawmakers in the audience. Breaking into a sly smile, Obama then added, “I know because I won both of them.”

His unscripted joke elicited some of the loudest cheers of the evening and was the “most social moment” of the speech, according to statistics compiled by Facebook.

TIME Congress

Immigration Sours GOP’s Sweet Retreat

From left, Sen. Steve Daines, R-Mont., Sen. Mike Rounds, R-S.D., Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., and Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., prepare to board a tour bus to join Senate and House Republicans at a two-day policy retreat in Hershey, Pa. on Jan. 14, 2015, in Washington.
From left, Sen. Steve Daines, R-Mont., Sen. Mike Rounds, R-S.D., Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., and Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., prepare to board a tour bus to join Senate and House Republicans at a two-day policy retreat in Hershey, Pa. on Jan. 14, 2015 in Washington. J. Scott Applewhite—AP

The sour topic here at “The Sweetest Place on Earth” is immigration.

In Hershey, Pa., at the Republicans’ first dual-chamber retreat in 10 years, conservative and moderate members debated the right strategy to protest the president’s recent executive actions deferring deportations for up to five million immigrants who have come to the country illegally.

“I think we’ve not handled the [immigration] issue well,” said California Rep. Jeff Denham, who voted against a GOP amendment this week that would roll back the 2012 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which has temporarily deferred deportation for hundreds of thousands of young adults who were brought to the country as children.

“Just throwing DACA out there without having a reform bill I think brings great concern not only from the Senate colleagues I talked to but from the folks in my district I’ve talked to,” he said.

South Dakota Sen. John Thune, a member of the GOP leadership, reminded reporters that the “magic number” in the Senate is 60 when asked how the chamber would consider a House bill passed Wednesday that ties the immigration fight to funding the Department of Homeland Security past its Feb. 27 deadline. While House and Senate Republicans have the “same goals” on reining in Obama, Thune said that there “may be different ways and approaches to this issue.”

Meanwhile, House conservatives are proud of the bill passed in their chamber this week, which would not only negate the president’s November immigration executive actions, but also several others going back years, including DACA. Arizona Rep. Matt Salmon said that the House has a “very, very united front” on its immigration bill. He said that the overall message he is getting from leadership is “we’re going to work our will.”

“We’re going to work our will and we’re going to send it over and stop worrying on what can get to 60 out of the Senate,” he said. “If we do that with enough time to respond then it’s a good process.”

Top Republican congressional leaders acknowledged the need to address a broken immigration system, but specifics past border security are hard to nail down. House Homeland Security Chairman Michael McCaul announced Thursday night that his committee will introduce “the most significant and toughest border security bill ever before Congress.” Oregon Rep. Greg Walden, the head of the National Republican Congressional Committee, acknowledged that the GOP needs a “a positive immigration plan for the country.” House Ways and Means Chairman Paul Ryan said that more and more Congressmen are recognizing that Republicans can’t fix issues like immigration unless it wins the White House and said it was “premature” to talk about immigration reform legislation that could pass this Congress, as the conference continues to develop its agenda.

“We are a country of immigrants,” he said. “Immigration is good for America. It’s important for jobs, for economic growth. It’s just that we want to have legal immigration. We want to have the rule of law restored. We want to fix this broken immigration system. I think most members agree with that.”

Other House and Senate party leaders acknowledged that Republicans have not yet agreed upon a strategy to fund DHS and oppose the president’s immigration actions. After the House passed its bill, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid tweeted that the “pointless, political” bill wouldn’t get the necessary 60 votes in the Senate.

Ironically, as TPM and others have noted, the fee-funded program that processes deportation relief and work permits wouldn’t be nearly as affected in the case of a DHS shutdown as border security and deportation efforts—Republican priorities funded through the appropriations process.

TIME

House Votes to Overturn Obama’s Immigration Policies

House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio walks to the House chamber on Capitol Hill in Washington on Jan. 14, 2015, as lawmakers gather for a vote to fund the Homeland Security Department but will curb President Barack Obama's executive actions on immigration.
House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio walks to the House chamber on Capitol Hill in Washington on Jan. 14, 2015, as lawmakers gather for a vote to fund the Homeland Security Department but will curb President Barack Obama's executive actions on immigration. J. Scott Applewhite—AP

Obama has threatened to veto the legislation

(WASHINGTON) — The Republican U.S. House voted Wednesday to overturn President Barack Obama’s key immigration policies, approving legislation that would eliminate new deportation protections for millions and expose hundreds of thousands of younger immigrants to expulsion.

The 236-191 vote came on a broad bill that would provide nearly $40 billion to finance the Homeland Security Department through the rest of the budget year.

Democrats accused Republicans of playing politics with national security at a time of heightened threats, and Obama has threatened to veto the legislation. Prospects in the Senate look tough, too.

But House Republicans, in a determined assault on one of Obama’s top domestic priorities, accused him of reckless unconstitutional actions on immigration that must be stopped.

“This executive overreach is an affront to the rule of law and to the Constitution itself,” said House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio. “The people made clear that they wanted more accountability from this president, and by our votes here today we will heed their will and we will keep our oath to protect and defend the Constitution.”

But Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill., accused Republicans of “viciousness” for trying to make it easier to deport immigrants brought to the U.S. as children. Rep. David Price, D-N.C., called the GOP effort “a political vendetta,” adding, “It’s a reprehensible, reckless tactic which will compromise, has already compromised, the full and effective functioning of our Homeland Security Department” at a time of heightened security risks.

The immigration measures were amendments on the Homeland Security bill.

One of them, approved 237-190, would undo executive actions that Obama announced in November to provide temporary deportation relief to some 4 million immigrants in the country illegally. A second amendment would delete Obama’s 2012 policy that’s granted work permits and stays of deportation to more than 600,000 immigrants who arrived in the U.S. illegally as children. That measure passed more narrowly, 218-209, as more than two dozen more moderate Republicans joined Democrats in opposition.

The changes Obama announced in November especially enraged the GOP because they came not long after Republicans swept the midterm elections, taking control of the Senate and increasing their majority in the House. Republicans pledged then to revisit the issue once Congress was fully under their control.

But even with Republicans in control of the Senate, the bill faces difficulty there, especially because House GOP leaders decided to satisfy demands from conservative members by including a vote to undo the 2012 policy that deals with younger immigrants known as “Dreamers.”

Republicans are six votes shy of the 60-vote majority needed to advance most legislation in the Senate, and even some Republicans in that chamber have expressed unease with the House GOP approach, especially given the importance of funding the Homeland Security Department in light of the Paris terrorist attacks.

Some House Republicans acknowledged that the Senate was likely to reject their approach, perhaps forcing them in the end to pass a Homeland Security funding bill stripped of controversial provisions on immigration.

“They’re not going to pass this bill,” said Rep. Charlie Dent, R-Pa.

Homeland Security money expires at the end of February so House leaders have left themselves several weeks to come up with an ultimate solution.

Immigrant advocates warned Republicans that Wednesday’s votes risked alienating Latino voters who will be crucial to the 2016 presidential election.

TIME 2016 Election

Why Democrats Are Losing the Working Class

Voting booths in polling place
Getty Images

Hint: they don't vote.

It’s true that wealthier Americans tend to vote for Republicans and that the less well-off tend to vote for Democrats. And it’s true that, in theory, such a demographic breakdown would be good for Dems. After all, in raw numbers, there are more—many, many times more—working-class Americans than there are folks at the top of the income pyramid.

The problem, as Democrats well know, is that it doesn’t much matter who the working class supports if they don’t show up to vote. And there’s the rub.

According to a Pew Research Center study released today, the “least financially secure Americans,” despite being significantly more likely to back Democrats, tend to “opt out of the political system altogether.”

While 94% of the the most financially secure Americans were registered to vote, only 54% of the least financially secure were, according to the study. Even fewer actually make it to their polling booths. While 2014 voting records are not yet available, in 2010, 69% of the most financially secure cast ballots, while just 30% of the least financially secure did, according to Pew.

The least financially secure Americans also tended to avoid other aspects of the political system as well, the study found. Working class Americans called and wrote to their representatives at much lower rates than their richer neighbors, and paid much less attention to basic facts in national politics. Roughly 60% of the most financially secure Americans could correctly identify the parties in control of the House and Senate when the study was conducted before the 2014 midterm; just 26% of the least financially secure could do the same.

These findings will not come as much of a surprise to Democrats, who were trounced in last year’s mid-term election in part because so few people—and particularly those at the lower end of the income spectrum—actually turned up to vote. In November, less than half of eligible voters showed up at the polls in 43 states, marking the lowest voter turnout on record in 72 years.

While voter turnout generally increases during presidential election years, and is therefore likely to tick up again in 2016, low voter turnout remains a huge problem for Democrats’ efforts not only to win over but also collect votes from the American working class.

That’s one reason they have been committed to making it easier for all Americans to vote. Working-class folks, who tend to have less flexible hours at work, vote disproportionately more in states that allow early voting and mail-in ballots—measures that are overwhelmingly supported by Democrats. In Colorado, for example, which began allowing mail-in ballots saw much, much higher turnout in 2014 than it’d had in 2010. Oregon and Washington, which also allow for mail-in ballots, had turnout rates that were higher than average in 2014, too. In North Carolina, where early voting measures allowed people to go to the polls over the course of seven days also helped increase voter turnout in that state by 35% from where it was in 2010.

The Pew study was based on data collected from a nationally representative panel of 3,154 adults, who were surveyed online and by mail between Sept. 9 and Oct. 3, 2014. The survey determined respondents’ financial security by asking about their difficult paying bills, whether they receive government aid, and whether they had access to financial assets and tools, like bank accounts and retirement savings.

TIME Congress

House Republicans Seek to Turn Page on Steve Scalise Scandal

Rep. Steve Scalise
Rep. Steve Scalise, R-La., speaks at the House Triangle during the Coal Caucus' news conference on the EPA's recently proposed greenhouse gas standards for new power plants on Sept. 26, 2013 in Washington. Bill Clark—CQ Roll Call/Getty Images

David Duke, a former wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, doesn’t think the third most powerful House Republican needs to apologize for attending one of his meetings in 2002. After all, they share a lot of constituents.

“In the district, which is his current Congressional district, I received over 60% of the vote to be the United States Senator, and then in the next year over 60% of the vote for the governorship,” Duke said on his Internet radio show on Tuesday. “Why in the world can’t someone serving the people come around the constituency and talk about a vote or something?”

It’s a question that has bedeviled Republicans in Louisiana since long before House Majority Whip Steve Scalise decided to speak to Duke’s group, the European-American Unity and Rights Organization. “The farther in the past you get the more connections you have to ‘old time’ Louisiana politics, which has always had racists and groups interested in promoting white supremacy,” said Pearson Cross, a political science professor at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette.

On Tuesday, House leaders decided to give Scalise a pass for his “error in judgement,” as Speaker John Boehner put it, noting that the Lousiana lawmaker had apologized. The principle organizer of the 2002 event, Kenny Knight, told the Washington Post that he invited Scalise, who lived in his neighborhood, and does not believe knew of the groups views on race.

But the battle over Duke’s constituents continues, even though the influence of the activist, who now rails against what he says as Zionist control of media and finance, has waned considerably in the last three decades.

Duke, who started a Klan chapter out of college, once represented a statehouse district in the same area of Louisiana that Scalise now represents. In a 1990 U.S. Senate race, after a campaign that focused on those Klan ties and saw President George H.W. Bush supporting the Democrat, Duke received 44% of the statewide vote, including a majority of the white vote. After that election, Democratic pollster Geoff Garin, who worked for the winning candidate, surveyed about 500 Louisiana voters who either supported or said there was a chance they would vote for Duke. “The white voters felt the establishment had been giving them the short end of the stick,” Garrin explained.”It was not just an angry time but also very raw.”

Issues like affirmative action and welfare registered as top concerns among this group. Of the group of Duke supporters and potential supporters, 49% said it happened sometimes or a lot that “qualified blacks are denied jobs or promotions because of racial prejudice.” But 85% of the same voters said it happened sometimes or a lot that “qualified whites lose out on jobs and promotions because blacks get special preference due to affirmative action hiring goals.” In the survey, which was conducted in December of 1990, 22% of respondents said that the one reason to support Duke was that he “has the guts to take pro-white stands, while other politicians cater to minority groups.” An additional 22% said pointed to Duke taking “a strong stand on cleaning up the welfare mess.”

By the late 1990s, when Scalise entered state politics, Duke’s constituency was still a force in the area. He received 19% of the vote in the special election to replace Republican incumbent Bob Livingston in 1999. By 2002, when Scalise addressed the group, mainstream Republicans had full control of the state GOP from Duke’s allies. “He was basically a potato by then,” said Louisiana political consultant Roy Fletcher. “You could stick a fork in him.” Duke was also living in Moscow, returning to the United States in late 2002 to plead guilty to felony mail fraud and false tax return charges.

Now Duke markets his ideas online, through a website, books and an online radio show. Scalise, for his part, is on record distancing himself from Duke as far back as 1999. “David Duke is an embarrassment to our district and his message of hate only serves to divide us,” Scalise told a local business trade publication in 2004.

On Monday, after news of his appearance broke, Scalise was even more direct. “I detest any kind of hate group,” he said.

— With reporting by Denver Nicks and Alex Rogers

TIME People

Watch a Mom Call C-SPAN and Embarrass Her Fighting Sons

"Oh god, it's Mom"

A mother of two political operatives–one Democrat, the other Republican–called into a live debate between the brothers on C-SPAN on Tuesday to tell her sons to lay off the partisan bickering come Christmas.

Joy Woodhouse called into the show using the regular phone line. Within seconds, her right-leaning son, Dallas Woodhouse, recognized the voice.

“Oh god, it’s Mom,” he says, as the left-leaning brother, Brad Woodhouse, drops his head into his hands.

“I don’t know many families that are fighting at Thanksgiving,” the elder Woodhouse said over the air. “I was hoping you’ll have some of this out of your system when you come here for Christmas. I would really like a peaceful Christmas.”

The two brothers work for rival political advocacy groups, at one point broadcasting rival campaign ads in North Carolina, the News & Observer reports.

“Thanks mom,” one of the brothers can be heard saying at the close of the call, though neither one committed to holding a quiet, bipartisan Christmas celebration.

TIME LGBT

Meet the Republican Who Lost His Election Fighting for LGBT Rights

Michigan Rep. Frank Foster (R) speaks on the floor in the Michigan House of Representatives in Lansing. Michigan House of Representatives Photographer Mike Quillinan

A young star in Michigan is spending his final days as a lawmaker working to expand the state's civil rights protections

In Michigan, a 28-year-old Republican state lawmaker is using his lame-duck session to fight for a bill that cost him his reelection in a primary this summer. Rep. Frank Foster is trying to extend the state’s civil rights act—which protects people from discrimination on the basis of age, race, religion, sex and weight—to also include sexual orientation. Even though he puts his bill at a 10% chance of passing, he says he has no regrets. “This is important, and if it’s not law in 2014, we’re still having the conversation,” Foster tells TIME. “Until it’s equal, it’s not equal.”

On Dec. 3, the commerce committee, of which Foster is the chair, was the site of a heated debate about tolerance and persecution. The public was invited to give testimony on Foster’s bill and another bill to amend the civil rights act to include both sexual orientation and gender identity. Supporters of the bills made arguments that passing them wasn’t just about protecting another class of citizens but about Michigan’s reputation and making the state feel welcoming to the broadest possible array of workers and companies.

One of those testifying in support was Allan Gilmour, a former second-in-command at Ford who made headlines when he came out as gay after his first retirement from the company in 1995. Updating the law, he said, “is necessary if Michigan is to attract and retain talent. And on an individual basis, no one should live in fear that they will lose their job or injure their careers should they live openly.”

Those opposing the bills, largely representatives from Christian groups, argued that the measures threaten to jeopardize religious freedoms, like those of Christian small-business owners who would prefer not to bake a cake or take photographs for a same-sex wedding—and might lose their business license for such a refusal under an amended civil rights law. “Why should that baker or photographer be forced against their religious beliefs and conscience to participate in that? And if they refuse to because of their religious conscience, to be put out of business?” said David Kallman, speaking on behalf of Michigan Family Forum, a conservative Christian organization. Multiple speakers also argued that there was no hard data showing that LGBT discrimination was a problem that needing solving. (There are reports on the issue and more research is being done on the topic.)

After giving his own testimony, Foster oversaw the meeting stoically, with one exception. Stacy Swimp, President of the National Christian Leadership Council, gave a speech about how he was “rather offended” that anyone would equate lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans to black Americans when it came to fights for civil rights. “They have never had to drink out of a LGBT water fountain,” he said, recounting that black Americans had been lynched and denied many basic rights in the past. He called any comparison “intellectually empty, dishonest” and accused the LGBT community of exploiting the struggles of black Americans.

Once he finished, Foster pulled his own microphone toward him. “Sir, I will agree with you on the fact that African Americans in this country’s short history have been discriminated against,” he said. “But if you don’t think the LGBT community has been discriminated against, been drug behind cars, been hung up by their necks til they’re dead, been denied housing, been denied commerce opportunities, then you’re just not looking very far.”

It was an impassioned speech from a native Michigander who never met a homosexual person until going to college at Grand Valley State University. Foster grew up in the tiny town of Pellston (pop. 831) in the midst of his current district, which spans the water where the state’s upper and lower peninsulas nearly meet. It’s an area known for fishing and hunting and tourism on islands like Mackinac, whose residents are also among his constituents. It’s also socially conservative.

By the time he finished his degree at Grand Valley State, Foster had been elected student body president, twice. He had organized rallies and marches against an amendment to ban affirmative action (which eventually passed by a nearly 20-point margin in 2006). He had accompanied administrators to Washington, D.C., to argue for better higher education funding. And he had worked to get gender identity added to non-discrimination policies in the student and faculty handbooks. “That was really the first time I socialized with people of different ethnic backgrounds and different races,” he says. “College was the way it was supposed to be for me.” He won his first race for a seat in the state House of Representatives in 2010, with 63% of the vote, and became one of only two freshmen to be appointed committee chairs.

After Foster was reelected in 2012, a Democratic colleague approached him about helping to support a non-discrimination bill. Like many people—one poll put the number at 87%—Foster assumed it was already illegal to fire someone for their sexual orientation, though there is no federal protection and only 21 states have passed such a law (18 of those, and D.C.’s, also include gender identity). Eventually, Foster and his colleague decided it would be more powerful if the Republican didn’t just co-sponsor the bill but introduced it. “I had no idea we did not have those folks included in Michigan’s civil rights act. When I found that out, it became a passion of mine,” he says, adding that he thought “as a young Republican, I could communicate to my colleagues and the party where we needed to go.”

Before Foster got around to actually introducing a bill, word got out that he planned to and he did interviews that confirmed people’s suspicions. In late 2013, Foster also called for the resignation of his Republican colleague Dave Agema, who caused an uproar after posting an article on Facebook that decried the “filthy” homosexual lifestyle. Agema was among those who encouraged a teacher at a Christian academy—who was considering running for Foster’s seat when he hit his term limit in 2016—to run against Foster in 2014 instead. Foster says his opponent, Lee Chatfield, gave him a deadline to publicly come out against legislation that would amend the civil rights act. “I wasn’t able to make that deadline, didn’t want to make that deadline,” says Foster. “So he filed in January and made this the center point of the campaign.” Foster lost by less than 1,000 votes in the primary against Chatfield, who had support from the Tea Party.

That loss not only cost Foster his job, but hurt his chances of getting the bill passed. The prospects had been looking good. He and other supporters of the bill had been rallying support among his fellow Republicans and gained the backing of the Michigan Competitive Workforce Coalition, a group with big-name members like Chrysler, Delta Airlines, Google and Kellogg that formed to support the legislation. “After my election, they slowly faded away,” Foster says of his GOP colleagues. “It was a pretty successful, religious-mounted campaign that beat me, and if that can happen in my community, that can happen anywhere.”

Foster says he’d like to see a bill pass that includes both sexual orientation and gender identity but had limited his to the former thinking that it would have a better chance of passing. When Michigan’s civil rights act was proposed in the 1970s—named Elliott-Larsen for the lawmakers who championed it—the inclusion of sexual orientation threatened to kill the bill, so it was removed. “Forty years later, here we are still trying to add sexual orientation, and it’s the transgender piece that was slowing the bill down,” Foster says. He also knows that by compromising, he may lose the support of Democrats. “Democrats are not going to vote for anything less than fully inclusive, and Republicans will not vote for fully inclusive,” he says. “So, in my mind, we’re sort of stuck.”

After winning his reelection, Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder, a Republican, sat down with the Detroit Free Press and its editorial board reported that “he will encourage the Legislature to take up an expansion of the Elliott Larsen Civil Rights Act to also include the LGBT community, prohibiting discrimination in hiring and housing decisions.” Foster is somewhat hanging his hopes on that report. “He can add some muscle to the argument and help me get this thing across the line,” Foster says. For now, both bills remain in the commerce committee. After potentially being voted out, a bill still has to win a floor vote in the House before repeating the process in the Senate.

Regardless of what happens, Foster is going home at the end of the session. He’ll work full time at Rehabitat Systems, a company which provides long-term care to people with traumatic brain and spinal-cord injuries, where he’s currently an executive officer. Right now, he’s frustrated with where the two-party system has gotten him. “I don’t want to necessarily be in the box anymore, where if I’m Republican it means I’m x, y and z,” he says. “The rest of my demographic, the 20-somethings, don’t think that way.”

But he says he’d like to have another go at being a Republican politician down the line, especially because their fiscal policies resonate so strongly with him. “There needs to be some more time,” Foster says. “My party has to change some of its social stances. And if that can happen, I think I’ll become more appealing to the party and vice versa.”

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