Democrats called on the federal government to back off President Donald Trump's executive order restricting federal agencies and government contractors from offering diversity training programs.
Bob Menendez, D-N.J.; Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio; Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass.; and 18 other senators sent a letter Thursday opposing the implementation of the executive order, saying it stifles "much-needed efforts in our states to reduce racial and sex-based discrimination."
"There is widespread uncertainty regarding the scope of the Executive Order, and some entities have cancelled their diversity and inclusion trainings altogether out of fear of losing federal funding,” they wrote to Office of Management and Budget Director Russell Vought. “Given that the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has exposed our nation’s stark racial inequities and other health disparities, the Administration should focus on reducing racial and sex-based discrimination rather than engaging in ill-informed political stunts."
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The executive order's stated goal is "to combat offensive and anti-American race and sex stereotyping and scapegoating." According to the Labor Department, eliminating such "stereotyping" in employment is "a key civil rights priority of the Trump Administration."
Critics said the executive order was a broadside against diversity and inclusion programs seeking to reverse patterns of discrimination and exclusion going back decades. It had an almost immediate chilling effect on reinvigorated efforts to address racial disparities in the workplace after the death of George Floyd, a Black man, under the knee of a white police officer in Minneapolis in May.
The Department of Justice and the Department of Health and Human Services stopped all diversity and inclusion training programs, and some colleges and universities canceled or paused programs. Companies and nonprofit organizations with federal contracts also put training on hold.
In October, civil rights groups filed a lawsuit challenging the executive order on the grounds that it violates free speech rights, calling it an "extraordinary and unprecedented act by the Trump administration to undermine efforts to foster diversity and inclusion in the workplace."
President-Elect Joe Biden's administration will probably scrap the order, Franklin Turner, a partner with law firm McCarter & English, told USA TODAY last month.
“I think it’s highly probable that this executive order will be rescinded in fairly short order,” said Turner, who represents multinational contractors and small and medium-sized companies.
A White House memo in late September suggested rooting out "ideologies that label entire groups of Americans as inherently racist or evil" in diversity training materials by searching for keywords such as "white privilege," "systemic racism," "intersectionality" and "unconscious bias."
Asked about his executive order during his first presidential debate with Biden on Sept. 29, Trump said, "They were teaching people that our country is a horrible place, it’s a racist place. And they were teaching people to hate our country. And I’m not gonna allow that to happen."
Biden responded: “Nobody’s doing that.”
“The fact is that there is racial insensitivity," he told Trump.
The target of the executive order was critical race theory, which teaches that racism pervades government and other American institutions, giving white people an advantage. Trump seized on the issue after appearances by conservative activist Christopher Rufo on Fox News' "Tucker Carlson Tonight."
The Democratic lawmakers said legitimate diversity and inclusion training programs “would not promote repugnant ideas such as the ‘inherent superiority’ of a particular race."
"By continuing to implement this misguided policy during the final days of President Trump’s Administration, your agency is discouraging and needlessly politicizing critical efforts to end racial and sex-based discrimination," they wrote.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Trump diversity training ban challenged by Elizabeth Warren, Democrats