WASHINGTON ― A massive defense bill set for debate this week will no longer include a provision to allow government contractors to fire employees for being lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender, senior Hill aides said Tuesday.
The amendment, tucked into the House version of the National Defense Authorization Act, would have dismantled President Barack Obama’s 2014 executive action that makes it illegal for government contractors to fire or harass employees based on their sexual orientation or gender identity. In its place, Republicans were advocating a broad exemption that opened the door to contractors discriminating against LGBTQ people based on a contractor’s religious beliefs. It would have affected every grant, contract and purchase order made by every federal agency, including contracts with hospitals, homeless shelters, colleges, schools, domestic violence shelters and adoption agencies.
The House passed its bill in May, with that amendment from Rep. Steve Russell (R-Okla.) in it. But the Senate passed its own NDAA in June without that language. That has left a final bill ― and the fate of that amendment ― in limbo for months as House and Senate negotiators went behind closed doors to hash out their differences.
Ultimately, Republicans agreed to take out Russell’s measure amid protests from Democrats, top committee aides told reporters Tuesday.
“The Russell amendment was in response to the executive orders. The NDAA was always an imperfect remedy for that problem,” a senior aide said in a background briefing. “Subsequent to the election, new paths have opened up to address those issues. It’s still a very important issue for the members and they intend to pursue those other paths.”
“Other paths” likely means that some Republicans will turn to President-elect Donald Trump to repeal Obama’s executive order, which he can do with the stroke of a pen if he wants. It’s unclear where Trump stands on this issue.
Obama previously threatened to veto the NDAA over several of its provisions, including the anti-LGBTQ amendment. But committee aides said Tuesday they think Republicans have taken out all of the major items that were problems for the White House, which means Obama may sign it into law.
Lawmakers often load up the NDAA with controversial measures, only to pull them out at the last minute. That’s because they know the bill has to pass ― it authorizes all of the nation’s defense spending for the next fiscal year ― so they want to make a statement on a particular issue while the bill is moving. Once it gets close to the time to send the bill to the president, they strip out the things the president opposes and send him cleaner legislation.