More Myth Than Fact: Kushner and Ivanka Changed Trump’s Mind on LGBT Discrimination

Despite reports (from unnamed sources) suggesting otherwise, Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner are not the secret ingredient to upholding LGBT rights under a Trump-Pence administration. Reports had been circulating that the couple urged the president to maintain Obama’s 2014 executive order protecting LGBT government contractors from employment discrimination, but former RD contributor Sarah Posner explained that the scope of potential influence Ivanka and her husband have on the president’s actions is limited.

Posner, who first reported on the leaked draft of Trump’s executive order to expand “religious freedom” for The Nation on Wednesday, got deep into the procedural weeds surrounding the flurry of reportage on that draft executive order and the continuance of Obama’s nondiscrimination order on Democracy Now this week.

The entire episode is worth watching, but particularly key to the ongoing discussion about how much credit Ivanka and her husband deserve for “saving” the modest LGBT protections enacted under Obama is the following from Posner:

“You’ll note that the reporting on the Kushners’ intervention here was limited to one particular issue, and that was the question of whether Trump was going to keep in place executive orders from the Obama administration that prohibit the federal government and federal government contractors from discriminating in employment against LGBT people. When Trump issued his statement last week about that, that was the only piece of this entire issue that he focused on. And the reporting in the wake of my reporting on the broad executive order only indicated that the Kushners had prevailed upon him regarding that particular employment issue. That reporting does not indicate at all whether the Kushners prevailed on him about these exceedingly broad religious exemptions, nor does it address the question of what they think about the Johnson Amendment.”

The Johnson Amendment is the 1954 legislation that prohibits tax-exempt organizations (like churches) from formally endorsing political candidates or directly engaging in political campaigns. Trump promised during Thursday’s National Prayer Breakfast  to “destroy” the Johnson Amendment, ostensibly to “allow our representatives of faith to speak freely and without fear of retribution,” according to the president. Repealing the Johnson Amendment has long been a priority for conservative Christians involved in politics, and may finally find some traction in the new administration, which has indicated that it prioritizes “religious freedom” concerns over civil rights.

Posner explains that it’s legally unclear whether Trump could repeal the Johnson Amendment through executive order alone, but she crucially notes that the Congressional Prayer Caucus has already introduced legislation to do just that. The “Free Speech Fairness Act” was introduced by Oklahoma Republican Sen. James Lankford on February 1.

“If that bill passes the House and the Senate, Trump is very likely to sign it,” Posner explains. “And that would sweep away this restriction on the use of tax-exempt resources to get involved in political campaigns. That would open the door not only for pastors to endorse political candidates directly, and use their church resources to do so, but it would also open the floodgates of dark money, to funnel that money through churches, because it’s not transparent, it’s not reportable like money would be donated to a political campaign or to a political action committee. If somebody wanted to pour unlimited money into a political campaign without having to disclose their identity, doing it through a church, who could now, with the repeal of the Johnson Amendment, engage in unlimited activity, that would be one way of somebody being able to do that.”

Watch Posner’s Democracy Now appearance to get up to speed on the shifting landscape of LGBT rights and so-called religious freedom under President Trump.