GOP lawmakers split over Trump LGBT order

Republicans on Capitol Hill are split over President Trump’s decision to uphold an Obama-era executive order banning federal contractors from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation.

Trump announced early Tuesday he would enforce former President Barack ObamaBarack ObamaComedian Hasan Minhaj blasts Trump, media at WHCA dinner Trump invites Philippine's Duterte to the White House Social media users rip Fox graphic on economy under Trump, Obama MORE's 2014 executive order protecting gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender employees from discrimination while working for federal contractors.

Trump has been more conciliatory toward the LGBT community than past Republican presidents and some sitting members of his own party in Congress. The White House statement on Tuesday noted that Trump was the first GOP presidential candidate to mention the LGBT community in his speech at the party’s nominating convention.

ADVERTISEMENT

“President Donald J. Trump is determined to protect the rights of all Americans, including the LGBTQ community. President Trump continues to be respectful and supportive of LGBTQ rights, just as he was throughout the election,” the White House statement read.

Speaker Paul RyanPaul RyanSamantha Bee roasts Trump at mock correspondents' dinner Ryan's home state highlights challenge for GOP high-risk insurer pools Trump 'disappointed' in congressional GOP MORE (R-Wis.) didn't push back against Trump's decision, even though his leadership team clamped down on an open amendment process last year in response to proposals to enforce the executive order.

“Speaker Ryan believes discrimination has no place in the workforce," Ryan spokeswoman AshLee Strong said.

GOP praise on Capitol Hill for Trump's decision Tuesday came only from the party's centrist wing.

Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), whose son is transgender, called Trump’s decision “a meaningful and positive step toward ending discrimination against hardworking LGBT Americans.”

“The shameful practice of discrimination on the job runs counter to our core values of fairness and equality. I hope that the administration and Congress can work together to extend equal rights to LGBT individuals in every sector,” Ros-Lehtinen said in a speech on the House floor.

Rep. Charlie Dent (R-Pa.), a frequent Trump critic, also issued a statement praising the decision.

“All individuals deserve the right to work in environments free of workplace discrimination. I continue to support and advocate for policies that embrace our nation's diversity and extend respect for all, and look forward to working with the new administration to strengthen these protections for all employees,” Dent said.

But conservatives have held another view, with Rep. Steve Russell (R-Okla.) expressing disappointment with Trump’s announcement.

Russell had authored a provision in the House-passed version of last year’s annual defense policy bill that would have provided exemptions for religious organizations. It was removed from the final defense authorization following pressure from Democrats.

“I cannot understand why the president would prevent people of faith to continue to contract with the military,” Russell said Tuesday.

Reaction to Trump's decision to keep the Obama-era order in place was decidedly muted, with most lawmakers focused on the more controversial executive order Friday to restrict travel from seven Muslim-majority countries.

Most House Republican offices didn't respond to requests for comment from The Hill about the LGBT order.

Trump’s decision to keep his predecessor's executive order in place comes almost a year after the House engaged in a heated fight over letting it stand.

Last summer, the House’s annual consideration of government spending bills temporarily stalled over amendments to enforce the executive order.

Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (D-N.Y.), one of seven gay members of Congress, offered an amendment to a Department of Veterans Affairs spending bill that ensured enforcement of LGBT protections for federal contractors. It would have passed had it not been for seven Republicans switching their votes at the last minute under pressure from House GOP leaders.

Maloney offered the same amendment to another spending bill a week later, which passed. But the underlying legislation collapsed on the House floor the next day in large part because of Republicans who opposed Maloney’s amendment.

House GOP leaders ultimately decided to restrict which amendments could get votes during consideration of spending bills going forward to prevent Democrats from offering similar culture-war amendments again.

Ahead of the vote, influential conservative group Heritage Action had urged Republicans to oppose Maloney's amendment, saying it would be included on its legislative scorecard.

"Make no mistake: A vote for the Maloney amendment is a vote for President Obama’s radical transgender bathroom agenda," a notice from Heritage Action stated at the time.

Heritage Action pointed to a column published Tuesday by Ryan Anderson, a senior research fellow for the group's policy arm, the Heritage Foundation. 

"Religious charities shouldn’t have to give up their mission and identity simply because they partner with the government in serving the public," Anderson wrote. 

"Trump can and should protect all Americans from violence and oppression, but he should not go along with Obama’s policies of elevating 'sexual orientation and gender identity' to a protected class," he added. 

Maloney, who represents a district that Trump won, praised Trump for letting the executive order stand – but with a caveat.

"I want to applaud the president for keeping the executive orders in place. It's good he didn't overturn basic workplace fairness at companies seeking taxpayer dollars. But the real test is whether he excuses the same discrimination under the guise of 'religious freedom.' We'll be watching," Maloney said.

Updated: 6:31 p.m.