Closet Politics

When House Speaker Dennis Hastert announced on September 28 that California Congressman David Dreier — the powerful chair of the House Rules Committee and buddy of Governor Schwarzenegger, whose transition team he headed — would be his nominee to replace the indicted Tom DeLay, that should have made it a done deal.

But by the time the House Republican Conference convened to formalize the election of a new majority leader on the afternoon of Hastert’s breakfast anointing of Dreier, there was an unexpected revolt by conservative Republicans. In a stunning challenge to the speaker, they insisted on dumping Dreier in favor of Christian right darling Roy Blunt of Missouri. Dreier, who had already been trumpeted by the national media as the next majority leader, all but disappeared from press coverage — and so did the real reasons for the unexpected refusal by Republican members of Congress to back him.

What really happened?

“A Different Kind of Republican” was the way the Washington Post Web site bannered the story after Hastert picked Dreier. Whoever wrote that headline had a muffled sense of humor because, although the Post’s story talked about how the slickly telegenic congressman from Los Angeles and San Bernardino counties, while “reliably conservative... never comes off as extreme,” it failed to mention what truly set Dreier apart from most of his Republican colleagues — the fact that Dreier is a closeted homosexual who has slavishly followed the homophobic GOP party line.

Flashback: Last fall, I reported on the outing of Dreier in two L.A. Weekly articles, (September 24 and October 1). While the blogosphere quickly echoed the Weekly’s reports, the mainstream U.S. press — which has steadfastly refused to cover the outing campaign that has revealed a host of top Republicans as closeted homosexuals — ignored how Dreier’s closet door had been pried open. By contrast, the eminently respectable and serious British daily The Independent picked up on the outing this summer, when the lead of its June 27 story read, “David Dreier, the Republican congressman expected to mentor Tony Blair’s eldest son Euan during a summer internship in Washington, is a hypocritical homosexual with an anti-gay voting record, critics allege.” The Independent cited the L.A. Weekly’s coverage.

Fast-forward to the majority-leader revolt: Within minutes after Hastert’s selection of Dreier, — the D.C.-based Web site that first outed Dreier — posted online and widely e-mailed an alert. “Call Dennis Hastert and thank him for standing up to the Radical Right by recommending a gay man as Majority Leader,” Blogactive’s Mike Rogers wryly wrote, giving Hastert’s phone number. Within hours, according to a low-ranking Hastert staffer who requested anonymity, the speaker’s office received more than 400 phone calls about Dreier’s being gay.

Many of those calls were from right-wingers. The Hill — the D.C. weekly covering Congress — later reported that “Republican aides across Capitol Hill said they were overwhelmed by phone calls from conservative activists” about Dreier. A lot of those calls, House staffers told me, were homophobic about Dreier’s being gay. Slate reported, “The House ‘Values Action Team,’ a group of GOP members tasked with pushing pro-life/pro-family issues within the caucus, blasted ane-mail to their colleagues alerting them that Dreier was to be tapped as a replacement and underlining his voting record supporting stem-cell research.” These conservative GOP congressmen didn’t need to tell their colleagues that Dreier is a closet case — it’s hardly a secret on Capitol Hill. When I was first reporting on Dreier’s outing, one well-known gay congressman told me, “Everybody in the House knows,” adding that he was “100 percent sure” that Dreier was gay.

The closest the mainstream media came to mentioning Dreier’s being gay was a story the Associated Press ran a few days after his dumping — just by coincidence, of course — on the outing of politicians. This October 4 AP story said, alluding to Dreier, “A cadre of activist bloggers and alternative-media journalists have been contending for more than a year that another Republican congressman is gay and yet has often voted against gay-rights legislation. Thus far, the mainstream media — both national outlets and those in the congressman’s home region — have declined to report on the campaign, although the effort is common knowledge among political reporters and on Capitol Hill.” Making the reference to Dreier unmistakable, the AP then quoted openly gay Rep. Barney Frank, who said that “the perception that the congressman might be gay had damaged his standing with some fellow Republicans in the House — and Frank said this issue of bias should be aired publicly. ‘I think he’s wrong to be silent about this,’ Frank said of the congressman. ‘You should not cover up this act of prejudice.’?”

But that, of course, is just what the mass media did — including all the dailies serving parts of Dreier’s district.

Dreier’s closet-case hypocrisy continues: Just two weeks before the majority-leader revolt dumped him, Dreier voted against including gays in the Hate Crimes Prevention Act (this provision passed the House 233-199). Yet even this latest in Dreier’s long record of anti-gay votes wasn’t enough to save him from the wrath of the Christer right that dominates the House Republican caucus.

Was Dreier’s sexuality the only reason he was dumped? Of course not. One other factor, little mentioned in the press, is that there’s been a lot of grumbling by GOPers that Californians had too much power by holding a half-dozen important committee chairs, including Dreier at Rules and Rep. Bill Thomas at Ways and Means. And Dreier’s oh-so-rare deviations from the Christer agenda were anathema to those who wanted DeLay’s replacement to be as staunch a storm trooper as The Hammer on their puritanical, anti-science approach to social issues. But the fact that Dreier is, although closeted, a homosexual — something they consider a mortal sin — made him anathema to the Christer GOP majority in the House.

And it’s a damn shame the press didn’t feel the voters should know what everyone in Washington knows.

Doug Ireland can be reached through his blog, DIRELAND, at

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