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WH Press Secretary bellyflops when questioned about thumbs down on ENDA exec order

I haven’t seen such complete #FAIL at the podium for the White House Press Secretary since Robert Gibbs was up there bobbing and weaving over “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” questions from Kerry Eleveld, formerly of The Advocate. Now it was Jay Carney’s turn to look like a jack@ss trying to explain why the President refused to sign an executive order that would bar workplace discrimination by federal contractors — protecting LGBT workers who are now able to be fired simply because of their sexual orientation, gender identity or expression.

It’s a beautiful sight to see mainstream and LGBT press (NBC News, Washington Blade, and Metro Weekly) politely, but firmly pounding Carney, who clearly was unprepared for multiple, detailed questions that were not easy to dodge. He came to the podium without any sane political explanation (other than giving off the stench of the oh-too-familiar political homophobia that pollutes this administration) for failing to throw the LGBT community an easy bone.

There’s no chance that Congress will pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act any time soon, so yesterday’s negative news — delivered to Beltway LGBT establishment figures summoned to a special meeting at the White House to receive the smackdown — was offensive. Hope they at least got a box of Obama M&Ms for their trouble.

Underscore the offensiveness once you remember what the President actually told Kerry Eleveld back in the day (The Advocate, Dec. 22, 2010):

“Let me just say there are still a lot of things we can do administratively even if we don’t pass things legislatively. So my ability to make sure that the federal government is an employer that treats gays and lesbians fairly, that’s something I can do, and sets a model for folks across the board.”

Whoopsie. I guess it depends on the meaning of “a lot of things we can do.” One of them is not picking up the executive pen and signing his John Hancock to stop discrimination where he can — when it comes to LGBTs.

Let’s go to the videotape (courtesy of Think Progress, along with the transcript). Carney gets bonus points for extra-slo-mo professional flopsweat:


Q    Jay, the President has decided at this moment not to sign an executive order that would ban workplace discrimination by any federal contractor on the basis of sexual orientation.  Based on the fact that the President has made past statements saying that he supports non-discrimination policies in the workplace, why not sign this executive order?

MR. CARNEY:  Thank you for the question.  The President is dedicated to securing equal rights for all LGBT Americans.  And that is why he has long supported an inclusive employment non-discrimination act which would prohibit employers across the country from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.  The President is committed to lasting and comprehensive non-discrimination protections, and we plan to pursue a number of strategies to attain that goal.  Our hope is these efforts will result in the passage of ENDA, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which is a legislative solution to LGBT employment discrimination.

And I would make the comparison here that pursuing that strategy, the passage of ENDA, is very similar to the approach the President took for the legislative repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell.”

Q   Can you make the distinction between ENDA and signing this executive order?  In other words, if he does support ENDA, why not sign this executive order, which relates to a smaller part of the population and get that policy started?

MR. CARNEY:  Again, I think that the DADT repeal is instructive here in terms of the approach that we’re taking at this time.  And while it is not our usual practice to discuss executive orders that may or may not be under consideration, we do not expect that an EO on LGBT non-discrimination for federal contractors will be issued at this time.  We support, as I just said, legislation that has been introduced — the Employment Non-Discrimination Act — and we will continue to work with congressional supporters to build — sponsors, rather, to build support for it.

We’re deeply committed to working hand-in-hand with partners in the LGBT community on a number of fronts to build the case for employment non-discrimination policies including by complementing the existing body of compelling research with government-backed data and analysis, building a coalition of key stakeholders and decision-makers, directly engaging with and educating all sectors of the business community — from major corporations to contractors to small business — and raising public awareness about the human and financial costs of discrimination in the work force.

Q    Tico Almeida, who’s the president of Freedom to Work, has issued a statement saying, “This is a political calculation that cannot stand.”  Is this a political calculation?

MR. CARNEY:  Absolutely not.  The President is committed to securing equal rights for LGBT Americans and that is why he has long supported ENDA.  I think the President’s record on LGBT issues speaks volumes about his commitment to securing equal rights for LGBT Americans.  The approach we’re taking at this time is to try to build support for passage of this legislation, a comprehensive approach to legislate on the issue of non-discrimination.

And I think, again, the approach that we took in bringing about the repeal — working with Congress to bring about the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell” is instructive here.  And as it did then, our approach to this piece of legislation demonstrates the President’s very firm and strong commitment to non-discrimination and to securing equal rights for all Americans.

Q    Jay, if it’s not going to happen at this time — some sort of commitment to or issue an executive order at a later time?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, I’m simply saying that our approach is to focus on trying to build and expand support for passage of ENDA. That is our support.  In terms of, again — as a rule — and we try to stick to it here — we don’t talk about executive orders that may or may not be under consideration.  In this case, I can tell you that at this time we are not considering such an executive order.  We are, however, actively working with stakeholders to build support for passage through Congress of a piece of legislation that would be far more comprehensive than an executive order.

Hey, guys, one at a time.

Q    It’s highly unlikely that the Congress will pass it given its current makeup.  And the President has issued numerous executive orders under the theme “We Can’t Wait” — has been unable to pass job legislation.  Why is the President making this distinction with this LGBQ

MR. CARNEY:  We believe that this is the right approach to achieve success here in a broad and comprehensive legislative action.  And at this time, we’re not considering as a part of that an executive order.

Now, there are executive orders that this President has signed and there are executive orders, either real or imagined, that the President has not acted on, and that’s because we look at each issue and we decide on a strategy that we think makes the most sense to achieving the President’s policy objectives.

Q    Does the President believe that Executive Order 11246 that has been in place since 1965 is redundant to Title VII?

MR. CARNEY:  You’re going to have to —

Q    That’s the federal contractor executive order that has been in place for race, religion and sex since 1965.

MR. CARNEY:  I haven’t had that discussion with him, Chris. What I do know for a fact is that this President is absolutely dedicated to securing equal rights for LGBT Americans.  I think his record speaks volumes in support of that statement.  And I think that the strategy that he pursued and the work that he did with Congress, with allies, in support of repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell” testifies to his commitment.  And you can —

Q   But unlike “don’t ask, don’t tell”, the executive order route on employment nondiscrimination for federal contractors has a separate portion even in addition to the legislative route that has been in existence since 1965.  So this is not the same as “don’t ask, don’t tell.”  And why has the President not approached in a similar way to that law?

MR. CARNEY:  It is a similar approach to the approach we took to “don’t ask, don’t tell.”  Again, I haven’t talked to him about other executive orders here.  What I can tell you is we’re not considering an executive order on this at this time.  We are focused on a legislative approach, a comprehensive approach that would be much broader through legislation.  And we are going to work with stakeholders to try to build support for passage of ENDA.

Q   One question before we move on.  You’ve said that the President legislatively repealed “don’t ask, don’t tell.”  While that’s true, he twice took in this sort of action to (inaudible) discharge authority twice before that repeal legislation was passed.  So to say that you need to have legislation to go with administrative action first is not true.

MR. CARNEY:  Well, that’s actually not a correction, Chris. It is a separate statement of action and fact.  We are not approaching this at this time through executive authority, through an executive order.  We are, however — in another demonstration of the President’s firm commitment to securing equal rights for the LGBT community — aggressively pursuing passage of ENDA.  And that requires working with stakeholders and building a body of persuasive evidence that this is the right thing to do.  And that is what we’re committed to doing.

Transgender advocate Dr. Jillian Weiss had this wry take on the administration’s POV re: the LGBT community:

We usually don’t call people to the White House to tell them we’re not signing an Executive Order, but someone had to do something to call off the dogs. You all were starting to get some traction, but we can’t afford that. Now don’t go thinking that chaining yourselves to the White House fence is going to work a second time. You’ve already played that card. We summoned you here to let you know our resolve — we’re not gonna sign that Order, no way, no how. So just stop with all the pressure. It’s not working. These are not the droids you’re looking for. Not…working…must get away…from political kryptonite…

But this sad, unnecessarily caustic move by the White House has only shown, with Carney’s performance, that all defenses for this position are full of holes. At Metro Weekly, Chris Geidner neatly laid out the natural questions that anyone with synapses firing would have after that presser:

  1. If the president supports the Employment Non-Discrimination Act — which would ban almost all private employers from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity — why would he not support an executive order to do so for a portion of the workforce?
  2. If the president has been taking actions under the banner of “We Can’t Wait” to address other areas where Congress has refused to act, why not do so in the case of this proposed executive order?
  3. If the president believes this approach is similar to the approach taken with “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal, why not — as was done with DADT repeal — take an interim step to lessen the burden of waiting on the legislative action?
  4. If the president thinks that ENDA is all that is needed to obtain “comprehensive” relief from LGBT employment discrimination, does he think the existing federal contractor executive order that prohibits such contractors from discriminating based on race, sex, religion and national origin — Executive Order 11246 — is redundant or unnecessary in light of the existence of Title VII?

How can the Obama administration think this was politically smart to rile up the LGBT community, raising the problematic issue of the gAyTM  again? You know, the endless fundraising from LGBT wallets in return for, oh, slo-mo equality, resting on past laurels and whispers in the ear of “just wait until after [insert midterms, the election, whatever here]. and we’ll be right there for you.”

All they have to do is say “President Romney” and that’s sufficient enough for some. For others it means taking their dollars and time to work for unequivocally assertive pro-equality candidates, ballot initiatives and other efforts where there is more bang for the equality buck. And there will likely be protests — exactly what the administration doesn’t want. It’s hard to see how this summit-to-sh*t-on-the-professional-LGBTs was a bright pre-emptive strike, but what do we little political peons know?

The Obama Administration will not lead on this, so the next step is obvious — build the coalitions and connections on the Hill to get support for ENDA. Hopefully the political hand will be strengthened after the 2012 elections. Perhaps the President will act with an executive order after he’s safe in his job for another four years, but the answer we heard yesterday was “not yet” and look over there at Capitol Hill for the answer.

Meanwhile, lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender workers will continue to lose their jobs around the country because of discrimination.


Speaking of protests emerging from this debacle, Freedom to Work, which led an effort to collect online petition signatures on to support an Executive Order, has launched a “We Can’t Wait” campaign. Read the release below the fold.

When the White House announced President Barack Obama would not sign an executive order at this time to prohibit federal contractors from discriminating against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Americans, the president and his aides made clear that ensuring fundamental fairness in the workplace isn’t a priority for this administration.

“This is a political calculation that cannot stand,” said Tico Almeida, president of Freedom to Work, announcing the launch of an all-out offensive called the “We Can’t Wait!” campaign to beat back homophobia in the workplace. “I urged senior White House staff yesterday to reconsider their mistake. We will continue to publicly urge them to reconsider for many months to come. White House staffers and lawyers have let politics stand in the way of a basic American value – that a solid day’s work deserves a solid day’s pay, regardless of the color of your skin, your place of worship, your gender, or who you love. We can’t wait for the White House to catch up with this basic democratic value, we can’t wait for them to catch up with the prevailing views of the American public, we can’t wait for them to do what is right for the American taxpayers who should not have to subsidize discrimination. And now we have the resources, as well as the will, to give the White House some political courage on this issue.”

Within hours of the White House announcement, the “We Can’t Wait!” campaign received a $100,000 cash infusion from liberal donor Jonathan Lewis, the son of major Democratic philanthropist Peter Lewis.

Quotes from Jonathan Lewis:

“This isn’t a broken promise President Obama can blame on Congress. He has not been able to provide a single valid reason for why he is now refusing to sign the executive order protecting LGBT workers. It has become increasingly clear that this decision is based on cowardice rather than principled leadership.”

“Over the past several years the LGBT advocacy groups have jumped through hoops for this administration, conducting extensive research and polling — more than has been done for any similar executive order — and now the only impediment is President Obama.”

“This is nothing short of craven election-year politics, a game Obama told us he would not play.”

Polling from the Human Rights Campaign has shown that 73% of Americans support an executive order barring federal contractors from discriminating against LGBT employees. Additionally, 90% of Americans believe federal protections already exist for LGBT workers nationwide according to a survey from the Center for American Progress.

Every Democratic president since Franklin Delano Roosevelt has leveraged his executive authority on behalf of providing a more fair and equitable workplace for all Americans.

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Pam Spaulding

Pam Spaulding