Updated: 6:08 p.m.
Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) suggested in a letter Monday that he would redirect funds from the Justice Department to argue for the Defense of Marriage Act in court, drawing a sharp response from House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).
Separately, Boehner’s office also confirmed Monday that Paul Clement, the solicitor general under President George W. Bush, will defend DOMA in court for the House.
In the letter to Pelosi, who wrote to Boehner last month to ask for the financial logistics of defending the law in court, Boehner wrote, “The burden of defending DOMA, and the resulting costs associated with any litigation that would have otherwise been born by DOJ, has fallen to the House.
“Obviously, DOJ’s decision results in DOJ no longer needing the funds it would have otherwise expended defending the constitutionality of DOMA,” Boehner added. “It is my intent that those funds be diverted to the House for reimbursement of any costs incurred by and associated with the House, and not DOJ, defending DOMA.”
Pelosi shot back with another letter, writing that Boehner had failed to answer how much it would cost the House to hire outside counsel to defend DOMA.
It also remains unclear how Boehner would redirect funds from the Justice Department. The department’s budget was cut by $740 million under the recently enacted continuing resolution that funds the government through September.
Pelosi also demanded to know why Democrats on the House Administration Committee were not notified about Clement’s hiring, even though a contract was reportedly forwarded to the panel.
Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese blasted Clement’s hiring, saying in a statement, “Speaker Boehner appears ready to go to great lengths, and the great expense of a high-power law firm, to try to score some cheap political points on the backs of same-sex couples.”
Marge Baker, an executive vice president at People for the American Way, said the hiring of Clement “just seems like such misplaced priorities.”
“The House Republican majority wants to spend who knows how much money from taxpayers to keep gays from enjoying equal rights,” Baker said in a statement. “We should be focusing on jobs.”
The president of the National Organization for Marriage, a nonprofit that opposes gay marriage, applauded selection of the “legal eagle.”
“Thanks to Speaker Boehner’s actions, President Obama’s attempt to sabotage the legal defense of DOMA is not going to work,” NOM President Brian Brown said in a statement.
He added, “Speaker Boehner is also quite right that the money to defend DOMA should be deducted from the Justice Department’s budget, since they will be doing the job DOJ should have done, but refused to do.”
President Barack Obama announced in February that the Defense of Marriage Act, which defines marriage as between a man and a woman, is unconstitutional and instructed the Justice Department not to defend the law in pending court cases throughout the country.
Boehner and other House Republicans criticized Obama’s actions and vowed to defend the law through other channels. In March, GOP leaders adopted a resolution to intervene in pending cases, prompting Pelosi to question how much it would cost the House to defend the 1996 law in court.