Pennsylvania senators split on LGBTQ center as Congress races to avoid a shutdown

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WASHINGTON — An unusual clash over money for a Philadelphia LGBTQ community center and a pro-gun provision has created turmoil over a government funding bill, as Congress sought to pass it days before the deadline to avert a partial shutdown.

The legislation is still expected to pass, barring any surprises, but has caused some intra-party tension between Democrats ahead of a late-Friday deadline to keep the government funded.

It began when Sens. John Fetterman, D-Pa., and Bob Casey, D-Pa., both issued letters Tuesday to top appropriators withdrawing support for funding for the community center. Senate leaders moved to speedily remove that money from the bill.

Around the same time, the conservative X account “Libs Of TikTok” sent a viral post indicating that the center rents its space out to a third party that hosts biweekly parties involving “BDSM, kink and fetish” among adults. A Democratic source said appropriators had been given the information by a different organization — not Libs of TikTok — and flagged it to the two Pennsylvania senators.

“We received new information and decided not to support the appropriation,” Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., said Wednesday, adding that he believes the money has been rescinded.

In a strange turn of events, Fetterman then told reporters on Wednesday that his staff sent the letter without his knowledge and that he continues to support the funding for the community center “1,000%” despite “faux outrage from the Libs of TikTok.”

“Let me be clear, that wasn’t my decision. This was a perfunctory letter that was issued by the staff. I was not part of that process,” Fetterman said.

In an emailed statement, Fetterman added: “The William Way LGBT Community Center has been doing critical work in Philadelphia for decades. I do not believe that we should penalize this center based on events that are entirely legal among consenting adults. I have no problem with what consenting adults do in their private time.”

“The choice was either to pull it or watch it get stripped out, attacked by Republicans, and ultimately killed. This is not the end of this fight and I am going to fight for William Way to secure their funding in the FY25 appropriations process,” Fetterman said. “I’m new here, but I wasn’t aware that Democratic values and priorities are dictated by Libs of Tik Tok.”

Casey, who faces re-election this fall, is standing by his call to revoke the funding, unlike Fetterman.

“Senator Casey has been a leader and ally in the fight to protect LGBTQ rights in the U.S. Senate and will continue to support the LGBTQ community in the Commonwealth. He believes that consenting adults have the right to do whatever they want in their free time, but these types of appropriations projects warrant the highest level of scrutiny on behalf of taxpayers,” Casey spokesperson Mairead Lynn said. “Senator Casey withdrew his request for federal funding when new information about the third-party use of the facility emerged.”

That wasn’t the only instance of last-minute drama ahead of a House vote in the afternoon.

Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., announced Wednesday he’ll oppose the funding bill due to a pro-gun provision for veterans that “could result in 20,000 new seriously mentally ill individuals being able to buy guns each year” and “will be a death sentence for many.”

“Republicans (and one or two Democrats) pushed for the new rider that allows, for the first time in 30 years, veterans judged by the VA to be mentally incompetent to buy guns,” Murphy said in a statement. “These are very very mentally ill veterans — those at the highest risk of suicide.”

He said Democratic leaders shouldn’t have given in to that demand.

“I don’t know why we accepted the first the first gun-lobby rider in decades,” Murphy, an outspoken proponent of tougher gun laws, said in an interview. “I cannot accept this as the new normal.”

Still, it’s not clear how many Democrats join him, as Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., and Sen. Mark Kelly, D-Ariz., both told NBC News they have concerns about the gun provision but weren’t willing to torpedo the package and force a shutdown over it. In the House, the top Democratic appropriator, Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., and leadership member Rep. Pete Aguilar, D-Calif., said they oppose the gun provision but intended to support the overall bill.

Meanwhile, scores of House conservatives came out against the legislation, complaining that it doesn’t do enough to cut spending or advance Republican policy priorities, such as defunding federal prosecutors involved with securing indictments of former President Donald Trump.

“The House is about to pass a #SwampOmnibus that fully funds the Justice Department’s prosecution of presidential candidates,” the House Freedom Caucus’s official account posted on X.

“Republicans will go around and they’ll talk about how they scored major wins — how they somehow delivered for the American people,” said Rep. Chip Roy, R-Texas. “The fact of the matter is we did no such thing.”



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