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Rep. Kildee: Congress Faces Unfinished Business on Civil Rights

Courtesy U.S. House of Representatives
U.S. Representative Dan Kildee (D-MI).

Hurricane Harvey temporarily muted some other key national issues in the last few weeks, but they haven't gone away.  As Congress returns to work this week, one issue before its members will be President Trump’s vow to ban transgender recruits from the military.  WKAR’s Kevin Lavery asks U.S. Representative Dan Kildee (D-MI) of Flint if Congress could act to override the commander-in-chief’s proposal.

Rep. Dan Kildee:

We sure could.  In fact, in the last several months there have been amendments to legislation that have prohibited the administration from using those dollars to discriminate against people based on sexual orientation.  We could do the same thing as it comes to gender identity, but it would take a majority of Congress who are willing to stand up to the president and say, this is the wrong policy.  I think it is important to point out that the president has characterized this executive order that he has executed as coming from the military.  This did not come from the Pentagon, this did not come from senior commanders; this did not come from the joint chiefs of staff, because they were surprised by it.  This was a case where the president has decided that some Americans who are willing to put on the uniform of their country, put their lives at risk in order to defend that country should be discriminated on based on their gender identity.  It’s the wrong policy, and it’s done in the wrong way.


Kevin Lavery:

It seems like this may violate the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).  We’ve all heard the famous words written in 1964; no discrimination based on “race, color, religion, sex or national origin.”  Back in 2012, the federal government added in Title VII, “transgender status and gender identity.”


Rep. Kildee:

Yeah, and the president seems willing to do this in order to satisfy a small minority of Americans whom he believes are his rock-solid base.  We see him doing it over and over again.  His most recent pardon of Sheriff Joe Arpaio (is) another example of pandering to the sort of narrowest voices in order to get the positive feedback that he wants from what he considers to be his base.  This is not the way a president should govern.  It’s as disappointing as we expected it would be. 



That ban is not the only civil rights issue that we’re facing in our country.  When you and your colleagues return to Congress, do you expect to still be dealing with any fallout from Charlottesville?


Rep. Kildee:

Yeah, I would imagine so.  Charlottesville opens up a conversation about something that’s even bigger than Charlottesville.  And that is, in the last year or so, as nation we’ve gone for the first time in a very long time in the wrong direction when it comes to civil rights; when it has come to where we stand on this question.  Many of us had long thought that the notion of some legitimacy to positions held by neo-Nazis or positions held by the Ku Klux Klan had long past.  To see the president try to create some sort of equivocation about whether or not these are legitimate points of view held by two different sides of a serious question is unfortunate. 

I think that perhaps will open the door for something positive.  For example, I’ve heard some say that the way Republicans in Congress might respond and differentiate themselves from the president would be to finally get around to passing a new voting rights act.  We’ve talked about this, some Democrats and Republicans – all the Democrats support it – but some Democrats and Republicans have been working on this in a bipartisan fashion.  There would not be a better time to do that; to help set aside some of these old wounds, unify the country, say that we have made progress and then for a bipartisan voting rights act bill to come to the floor of Congress.





Kevin Lavery served as a general assignment reporter and occasional local host for Morning Edition and All Things Considered before retiring in 2023.
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