President Obama has said he will veto the 2017 defense authorization bill when it reaches his desk if Republicans insist on including an anti-LGBTQ “religious freedom” provision.
The White House has not officially announced the intent to veto the $600 million spending bill publicly, however senior administration officials at a White House meeting Monday told groups opposed to the provision that they have delivered that message privately to key lawmakers “in unequivocal terms,” reports Roll Call. White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough is said to have reached out to members personally to make the administration’s stance clear.
The Russell Amendment, named after its sponsor Oklahoma Republican Steve Russell, has already passed the House. It would allow federal contractors to discriminate against the LGBTQ community provided they claim they are doing so out of a strongly held religious belief. This would goes against an executive order Obama signed prohibiting discrimination against workers by government contractors.
The Senate did not add the provision to its version of the bill, known as the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), meaning there could be a standoff when congress meets after the presidential election in a lame-duck session where they will be under pressure to resolve differences between the chambers and get the bill to the president’s desk. The disagreement could result in a filibuster in the Senate.
Republicans have said the provision is necessary to uphold religious freedoms, while Democrats are criticizing it for opening the door to potentially harm workers.
This would be President Obama’s 13th veto while in office.
Monday’s White House meeting on the Russell amendment was led by two presidential assistants: Paulette Aniskoff, director of the Office of Public Engagement; and Amy Rosenbaum, director of legislative affairs, Roll Call reports.
Groups opposing the anti-LGBTQ amendment that were in attendance included Planned Parenthood, the Center for American Progress, the Human Rights Campaign, the American Civil Liberties Union, the National Women’s Law Center and Americans United for Separation of Church and State.