Influential Catholic leaders sent a letter to senators Friday urging them to support Republican Sens. Ted Cruz's and James Lankford's effort to block two D.C. bills.
This week, Cruz introduced two joint resolutions of disapproval , with Lankford, an Oklahoma Republican, as a co-sponsor, aimed at striking down the Reproductive Health Non-Discrimination Act and the Human Rights Amendment Act, which the D.C. government approved in January. The senators say the bills violate religious freedom and the Catholic leaders agree.
"In effect, both RHNDA and HRAA would compel religious institutions, faith-based organizations, and pro-life advocacy organizations to engage in certain behavior that seems intended to drive these institutions and organizations out of the District of Columbia," wrote the leaders, including two of the four cardinals who lead the U.S. Archdioceses. "We note that the Archdiocese of Washington and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops are among the major institutions that could be severely impacted by these measures."
The signatories included Donald Cardinal Wuerl, the archbishop of Washington, and Seán Cardinal O’Malley, the archbishop of Boston, along with three leaders in the U.S. Conference of Bishops. The USCB was part of a coalition of religious and conservative groups that sent a letter to lawmakers on Feb. 5, urging them to strike down the D.C. laws.
The Reproductive Health Non-Discrimination Act seeks to prohibit employer discrimination based on reproductive health decisions, but conservatives say it could force employers to act contrary to their religious beliefs. The Human Rights Amendment Act is actually an attempt to undo a 1989 congressional action that allowed religious educational institutions to “deny, restrict, abridge, or condition” funds, school facilities and services from gay groups. Opponents say it forces religious schools to recognize groups that are not in line with the schools' beliefs.
It is unclear whether similar resolutions will introduced in the House, but Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, indicated it is a possibility.
"We want to take some action in the House too," Chaffetz, whose committee has jurisdiction over D.C., said Thursday when asked about the Senate resolutions. "We're still working on that."
Cruz's and Lankford's joint resolutions of disapproval are the first time in five years members of Congress have activated the formal process by which it can strike down D.C. laws. All D.C. laws must be transmitted to Congress for a 30-day review period, during which a law can be rejected by a resolution that passes both chambers and is signed by the president. It is unlikely the president, who supports D.C. autonomy, would sign the resolutions if they passed the House and Senate.
A vote on the resolutions is also expected before the review period ends April 17. According to the Home Rule Act, which established the D.C. Council, if the resolutions have not been referred out of committee after 20 calendar days, they can be discharged out of the committee. The Home Rule Act states the motion to proceed to such resolutions is "highly privileged and is not debatable."
In other words, the resolutions do not have to pass the 60-vote threshold to end debate before they are considered, and only need a majority vote to pass the Senate.
Niels Lesniewski contributed to this report. Related: Cruz, Lankford Move to Block D.C. Bills Leave D.C. Laws Alone, Coalition Tells Congress Heritage Action Urges Congress to Reject D.C. Bills The 114th: CQ Roll Call's Guide to the New Congress Get breaking news alerts and more from Roll Call in your inbox or on your iPhone.