A key sticking point in the negotiations during the upcoming lame-duck session is a House-passed provision that Senate Democrats say would undercut protections against workplace discrimination based on sexual or gender orientation. They’ve called the measure dangerous and are demanding it be removed from the $602 billion measure.
Many House Republicans, however, view the provision as a bulwark for religious liberty and just as adamantly want it kept in the final package. Donald Trump‘s victory in the presidential election has strengthened their hand should the contentious debate begin anew next year.
“It’s going to be a tough one for them to figure out,” said Justin Johnson, a senior defense policy analyst at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank. Drop the amendment and risk a backlash from rank-and-file Republicans, he said. Keep it in and Democrats could mobilize to block the defense bill, which authorizes spending for military programs that range from jet fighters to a pay raise for the troops.
A filibuster carries risks for Democrats. They could be hammered by the GOP for stymieing legislation important to U.S. service members and their families. And even if the provision is dropped to avoid a veto by President Barack Obama, Republicans — who control both houses of Congress — could wait until Trump is in the White House and attach the provision to a different bill.
“I think the election gives congressional Republicans a lot more leverage on this issue,” Johnson said. “They don’t have to be too worried about a veto threat because the situation only improves next year.”
Although much of Trump’s agenda on social issues remains opaque, he assured conservatives during the campaign that he would place a high priority on religious liberty.
The tenure of Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, the vice president-elect, was punctuated by his steadfast support for conservative social issues that at times drew unwanted attention to the state, most notably when a religious objections law he signed provoked a national backlash from critics who said it could sanction discrimination against gay people.