November 18, 2018 at 3:48 pm EST | by Chris Johnson
House GOP urges Trump to drop LGBT protections in NAFTA update

Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-Colo.) is leading House Republicans in opposition LGBT language in the NAFTA update. (Photo public domain)

A group of nearly 40 House Republicans are calling on President Trump to drop from the updated U.S. trade proposal with Mexico and Canada a provision encouraging countries to adopt policies barring anti-LGBT discrimination in the workforce, throwing ratification of the deal in question.

In a letter dated Nov. 16, lawmakers led by Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-Colo.) say they’re “deeply concerned” by the proposed LGBT requirements in the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, a renegotiation of the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement initiated by President Trump. An article Friday in Politico highlighted the letter.

“A trade agreement is no place for the adoption of social policy,” the letter says. “It is especially inappropriate and insulting to our sovereignty to needlessly submit to social policies which the United States has so far explicitly refused to accept.”

The letter urges Trump to remove the language from the agreement before signing it at a planned Buenos Aires event with the leaders of the United States, Canada and Mexico on Nov. 30, which is the day before the current administration leaves office.

After the leaders sign the agreement, the countries would have to ratify the deal for it to take effect. For the United States, that means approval in Congress after an election in which House Democrats swept in power amid dissatisfaction with Trump.

Section 23 of the USMCA contains a provision against sex discrimination in the workplace, calling on a members in the deal to adopt against sex-based discrimination, including on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. The sections also calls for cooperation among the member states “in promotion of equality and elimination of employment discrimination” with regard to numerous characteristics, including sexual orientation and gender identity.

According to Politico, the language was included in the draft agreement at the behest of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, whose government reportedly called the provision a “big win.”

The language is unprecedented in a U.S. trade agreement, Politico reports, but it’s unclear whether provision has real teeth and Canada and United States agree it wouldn’t requite a new law.

In opposition to the provision, House Republicans enumerate other policies of the Trump administration excluding LGBT people from the definition of “sex” under federal law. The Justice Department has reversed Obama-era policy interpreting laws against sex discrimination, such as Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, to apply to transgender people and has asserted discrimination against lesbian, gay and bisexual people isn’t covered under the law.

Also cited is an explosive recent report in the New York Times asserting the Department of Health & Human Services is drafting a proposal essentially to eliminate transgender people under the implementation of the law. Although that proposal generates a firestorm of opposition among transgender advocates, House Republicans call the effort “encouraging” and say it would “restore the historic definition of ‘sex’ to a person’s anatomical sex at birth.”

Adopting the agreement along with the LGBT protections, House Republicans assert, would undermine efforts currently underway in the U.S. government.

“One wonders at the contradictory policy coming through [the U.S. Trade Representative] when other departments under your administration are working to come into alignment on SOGI policy,” the letter says.

Signers of the letter includes House members with a history of anti-LGBT views, including Rep. Vicky Hartzler (R-Mo.), who proposed an amendment seeking to bar the U.S. military from paying transition-related care for transgender services members, as well as Reps. Steve King (R-Iowa), Andy Harris (R-Md.), Louie Gohmert (R-Texas) and Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), chair of the House Freedom Caucus.

A statement from Lamborn asserts he signed the letter along with 45 other co-signers. However, the Blade counts 38 total signatures on the missive. Slots for two signatures — Reps. Warren Davidson (R-Ohio) and Roger Williams (R-Texas) are left blank.

In the statement, Lamborn said the adoption of the proposal in the USMCA would be “an unnecessary black eye.”

“My concern is the precedent this could set for activist courts to cite as congressional support for SOGI language once the USMCA is adopted,” Lamborn said. “I strongly urge him to remove the troubling language in the deal that was adopted behind the scenes.”

Drew Hammill, a spokesperson for House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), slammed the letter as “despicable.”

“This despicable letter is more of the same from a Republican Congress with open contempt for the humanity of the LGBTQ community,” Hammill said. “It enrages these GOP Members that LGBTQ Americans should be treated with respect and dignity under the law. They are on the wrong side of history, and come January, they will be on the wrong side of the newly-elected House majority.”

According to CTV News, Trudeau isn’t saying what he’s willing to do to keep the LGBT provision intact, reportedly telling reporters Sunday he’s not going to negotiate the deal in public.

“We got to a good agreement that I think represents Canadian values, Canadian approach, but also values that are broadly shared amongst citizens of our three countries,” Trudeau is quoted as saying at the end of summit with Asia-Pacific leaders.

“In any trade deal, there are going to be people who would like this or like that or not want this or not want that,” Trudeau reportedly added.

The Washington Blade is unable to find any reporting on the Mexican government’s position on the LGBT language. A representative of the Mexican government couldn’t be immediately reached for comment.

According to Politico, opposition from House Republicans is just “one more landmine in the path” of enacting Trump’s biggest trade achievement. Labor groups have also expressed concern mechanisms to enforce new worker protections aren’t sufficiently strong and hinted the incoming Democratic House might seek changes.

Given the deal requires congressional approval for implementation, a lack of support among members of Congress — Republican and Democratic — could spell doom for the proposal when it comes before lawmakers for ratification. According to a report in Business Insider, the concerned over the agreement already mean the deal is “suddenly in trouble” and it’s future is “in question.”

Adjusting the deal would be a “tall order,” Politico reports, but if the Trump administration were to address the concerns of House Republicans, the easiest way would be persuading Canada and Mexico to change the language before the agreement is signed.

If those countries refuse and Trump is concerned about having enough Republicans votes for congressional approval, the administration could seek to eliminate the LGBT language through the implementing bill, but that would be highly unusual and give Democrats a reason to vote “no,” Politico reports.

Lamborn is quoted in Politico as saying his understanding is the administration could seek to alter the language without opening the deal back up, reportedly adding, “if it’s bad enough — and in my opinion it’s bad enough — they should consider taking it out.”

“At this point I’m a ‘no’ vote and I would encourage others to be a no vote unless something is done,” Lamborn reportedly said. “And things could be done within the agreement.”

It remains to be seen what action the Trump administration will take. The Washington Blade has placed a request in with the White House seeking comment on the House Republican letter.

Chris Johnson is Chief Political & White House Reporter for the Washington Blade. Johnson attends the daily White House press briefings and is a member of the White House Correspondents' Association. Follow Chris

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