If Blunt is in, is Dreier out?

The AP said that California Rep. David Dreier would be DeLay's replacement. Did questions about his sexual orientation keep him in a lesser role?

Published September 28, 2005 9:03PM (EDT)

Earlier today, the Associated Press reported that House Speaker Dennis Hastert was likely to name California Rep. David Dreier to serve as House majority leader in Tom DeLay's absence. The AP considered it such a done deal that it distributed a feature this afternoon looking ahead at Dreier's tenure in the leadership role.

But when Hastert appeared before the press this afternoon, he said that Missouri Rep. Roy Blunt would take over as House majority leader, with Dreier relegated to a supporting role. Did Hastert plan to go with Blunt all along, or did something cause him to change his mind? And was that something the same something that the Stonewall Democrats seemed to be hinting about today?

In a press release distributed early this afternoon, the national organization for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender Democrats called on Dreier to be "honest" about his agenda, to "honestly answer" whether he would pursue an antigay agenda and to "openly discuss" his plans as House majority leader. If you think there was a hint in there, you're probably right. Dreier has never been particularly secretive about his conservative political views, but he has repeatedly declined to discuss something else: his sexual orientation. Last year, Raw Story and the L.A. Weekly both ran stories suggesting that Dreier is gay.

As the L.A. Weekly said at the time, reporting on Dreier's sexual orientation would comply with what it called the "Barney Frank rule": Outing is justified only when the person being outed has used his power to harm other gay people. Dreier received a lowly 22 out of 100 on the Human Rights Campaign's 2004 legislative scorecard and an even lower 17 out of 100 in the HRC's 2002 report. He has voted in favor of the Defense of Marriage Act and legislation prohibiting gay couples from adopting children in the District of Columbia, and he voted against a bill that would have banned discrimination in hiring based on sexual orientation.

That sort of voting record would put Dreier, who is 53 and single, in good stead with conservative House Republicans. But at a moment when the Republican Party is reeling from a series of ethics investigations and allegations, divided on fiscal issues and worried about 2008, the last thing the party needs to do is infuriate its right-wing religious base by choosing a leader whose sexuality is open to question.

Roy Blunt, the man the Republicans chose instead of Dreier, is married, the father of three and, in the words of the Stonewall Democrats, "flamboyantly out" in his opposition to equal rights for gay Americans.

By Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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