Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-Ala.) speaking on the Senate floor.C-Span

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Alabama Republican Sen. Tommy Tuberville, an anthropomorphic talk-radio microphone that no one has noticed is no longer plugged into the wall, failed in his attempt to use the COVID-19 relief bill on Saturday to target trans high school athletes.

But still, a near-majority of senators voted for it.

With the Senate in the closing stretch of votes on the stimulus bill—which includes $1,400 checks for millions of Americans, extended unemployment benefits, and hundreds of billions of dollars in aid for cash-strapped state governments—Tuberville forced a vote on an amendment that would, in his words, block educational institutions from “receiving funding if biological males are allowed to compete in women’s athletics.”

It’s the sort of contribution—off-topic, retrograde—you would expect from Tuberville, a former college football coach who during his 2020 campaign once misidentified the three branches of government. But Tuberville was hardly off on an island here. His amendment was supported by all but one Senate Republican (that would be Lisa Murkowski of Alaska), plus Joe Manchin, the West Virginia Democrat. It needed 60 votes for passage, but passage wasn’t really the point.

As my colleague Abigail Weinberg has noted, attacking trans athletes has increasingly become a core part of national Republicans’ messaging. In response to the House’s recent passage of the Equality Act, which bars discrimination on sexual orientation and identity, conservatives on Capitol Hill warned that, in the words of one California congressman, it “destroys women’s sports and renders parents powerless to protect their own children.”

Tuberville’s stunt drew sharp pushback from Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.). “For the love of God,” she said in a floor speech. “Can’t we just have a little bit of heart and compassion in this world for someone who doesn’t look or live exactly like you?”

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