Florida Republican congressman Mario Diaz-Balart turned heads Wednesday when he voted in favor of allowing horse slaughter in the United States, voting against his fellow Florida congressmen in what appears to have been a vote deal made behind closed doors with several southern Republican lawmakers.
Diaz-Balart’s vote was one of two to sway the measure in the opposite direction in the Appropriations Committee vote.
Every vote mattered in the end, with the bill passing with 25 voting against repealing the ban and 27 in favor.
Horse slaughter hasn’t always been permitted in the U.S. In fact, it was banned in 2007 when Congress eliminated the funding for inspection of facilities carrying out horse slaughter.
The issue has repeatedly come up for votes and Diaz-Balart raised eyebrows with Wednesday's vote since he was initially against horse slaughter, voting for the ban in 2014. Diaz-Balart then began to vote in favor of horse slaughter in 2015, but some say he was swayed by other enticements this vote.
It appears the South Florida congressman changed his tune beginning in 2015, saying “yes” to a measure which could send thousands of horses to the slaughterhouse.
When asked why he supported the ban and if was planning on switching his vote, Diaz-Balart acknowledged he would vote “no” on the measure.
Diaz-Balart told the Miami Herald he didn’t think it mattered much since horses were sent to slaughter anyway in a much less compassionate way in other parts of the world.
“The reality is, if these horses are not dealt with in USDA certified and inspected facilities, they will be hauled off to a foreign market where the conditions are much crueler and less humane,” Díaz-Balart said.
Diaz-Balart’s vote goes against several Florida congressmen who have heavily favored banning the practice of horse slaughter.
But sources close to the legislative process told Sunshine State News Diaz-Balart’s change of heart didn’t have to do with simply realizing horse slaughter would happen anyway, but was actually part of a backroom deal hammered out for his own political gain.
It’s unclear, however, what, exactly, Diaz-Balart received in return for switching his vote.
Diaz-Balart went rogue in his vote. The other two Florida members of the committee, Tom Rooney, R-Fla., and Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla., both voted in favor of the ban.
Wasserman Schultz was appalled members would use a nationwide population-control argument to support horse slaughter.
“The inability to deal with that challenge does not make it OK to leave the door open for the possibility of horse slaughter in the United States of America,” she said.
U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Fla., has frequently led the charge against the practice, passionately railing against horse slaughter since taking office in 2006.
Buchanan came out swinging against the Bureau of Land Management’s National Wild Horse and Burro Advisory Board’s recommendation to exterminate 45,000 horses last October, calling horse slaughter “disgraceful.”
“The department needs to permanently reject the monstrous and unacceptable recommendations of its advisory board,” Buchanan said.
Insiders say Diaz-Balart hashed out some sort of negotiation with U.S. Reps. Robert Aderholt, R-Ala., Markwayne Mullin, R-Okla., Hal Rogers, R-Ky., and Adrian Smith, R-Neb., in exchange for other votes, contributions or political power.
Calls to the congressmen’s offices were not immediately returned.
Diaz-Balart denied any sort of political agreement Thursday morning.
"He did not make a deal of any kind," Diaz-Balart spokeswoman Katrina Valdes told Sunshine State News. "He has been consistent on his vote for this amendment."
Insiders with knowledge of the legislation said they were directly told the four other congressmen “didn’t make attempts to hide” the fact that they were directly influencing other members to vote in favor of horse slaughter.
Animal rights groups lambasted the vote, both for humane purposes and for betraying conservative values.
“As a lifelong Republican, I’m deeply saddened and quite ashamed to see my fellow conservatives go to such great lengths to promote the slaughter of American equines,” said Marty Irby, head of the Humane Society of the United States’ equine campaign. “I hope the members who profess to be fiscal conservatives will reflect upon this vote that would have saved millions of taxpayer dollars annually -- and begin to practice what they preach.”
The House's vote will become law pending President Donald Trump’s approval.