This past April, in the middle of the night, the House Armed Services Committee passed an amendment to the must-pass National Defense Authorization Act bill without a hearing. That amendment was the “Russell Amendment” — added by Rep. Steve Russell of Oklahoma. Its purpose? To preserve “religious liberty” by allowing companies with federal contracts to be exempt from civil rights laws and the Americans with Disabilities Act.
The Russell Amendment would allow federal military contracts — and, therefore, taxpayer dollars — to go to companies that discriminate for “religious reasons.” Against women, against LGBTQ people, against people of different religions or no religion at all — affecting workplace protections for nearly 28 million people. It would allow an employer with a federal contract to fire a woman for using birth control, a trans person for transitioning, a gay person for getting married, etc. Those are your taxpayer dollars making the lives of already vulnerable populations that much worse.
This would conflict directly with President Obama‘s executive order barring federal contractors from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.
Now, 42 Democratic senators, led by Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut and including vice-presidential nominee Tim Kaine, have signed a letter to the House and Senates Armed Services Committee demanding that the amendment be cut from the bill, which funds the military for the next year, on the grounds that discrimination shouldn’t be funded by taxpayer dollars. The hope is that the amendment will be removed before it goes to the floor, but Blumenthal leaves open the possibility of a filibuster if it is not. (60 Senate votes are needed to override a filibuster, so having 42 senators opposed to this amendment means a filibuster would have teeth.)
The White House has already stated that President Obama will veto the bill should it include the Russell Amendment — and Sen. John McCain has admitted that if Republicans want it passed as is, they will likely have to wait until after the election to do so… which probably won’t work out so well for them, given that Donald Trump‘s chances of winning the election are rapidly fading away and there’s no chance in hell that Hillary Clinton would sign a bill that includes that amendment.
That means Russell and his GOP allies may have to wait a long time before their dream of expanding government-sanctioned discrimination comes true. However, given the fact that 71% of Americans now support laws banning employment discrimination against LGBT citizens, it doesn’t seem like they’ll find much support for it in the future, either. WHOOPS!