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Will Obama ‘use the pen’ to protect LGBT workers?

Jay Carney, White House, gay news, Washington Blade

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney won’t say whether Obama’s use of his pen will include action to protect LGBT workers. (Washington Blade photo by Damien Salas)

President Obama pledged this week to take executive action if Congress fails to pass certain items on his legislative agenda, but so far the strategy of bypassing Congress doesn’t extend to the issue of barring discrimination against LGBT workers.

In public remarks before a Cabinet meeting on Tuesday, Obama said he intends to make clear that Congress isn’t the only path for policy change, saying “we are not just going to be waiting for legislation” to provide aid to Americans.

“I’ve got a pen and I’ve got a phone,” Obama said. “And I can use that pen to sign executive orders, and take executive actions and administrative actions that move the ball forward in helping to make sure our kids are getting the best education possible, and making sure that our businesses are getting the kind of support and help they need to grow and advance to make sure that people are getting the skills that they need to get those jobs that our businesses are creating.”

That situation could apply to the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, a bill that would bar most employers from engaging in anti-LGBT workplace discrimination. Although the bill passed the Senate last year on a bipartisan basis, it has languished in the House. House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) has said he opposes the legislation.

LGBT advocates are jumping on Obama’s remarks as another opportunity to push him to sign the executive order prohibiting federal contractors from discriminating against LGBT workers.

Fred Sainz, vice president of communications for the Human Rights Campaign, said his organization “certainly hope[s]” the president’s words — and similar words from other administration officials — indicates Obama is preparing to take action to institute LGBT non-discrimination protections.

“The White House’s statements were a perfect description of the executive order that hardworking LGBT Americans need,” Sainz said.

Rea Carey, executive director of the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force, said the “time is right for more action” in the wake of Obama’s words that he’ll use his pen to advance his agenda.

“If politics is local, then all the administration has to do is take a look at what Virginia’s new Gov. Terry McAuliffe did as his first act — signing an executive order that protects LGBT state employees from discrimination,” Carey said. “With one stroke of his pen, the president can immediately improve the lives of LGBT people across the country; we encourage him to use it.”

But the White House maintains the legislative route to protecting LGBT workers from discrimination is the path it prefers.

Under questioning from the Washington Blade, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said on Thursday he doesn’t “have any change or update” from the administration’s previously stated preference for passage of ENDA over an executive order prohibiting LGBT discrimination among federal contractors.

“So our view has always been that the best way to address this important matter is through broad, comprehensive employment non-discrimination legislation,” Carney said. “And we support action on that legislation in the House so that the president can sign it.”

Asked by another reporter why the president would take executive action to advance his policies on issues such as gun control and education, but not on LGBT discrimination, Carney reiterated the administration’s position.

“We are very focused on the potential for further action in the Congress — for the progress that we’ve seen around the country and in Congress in recognizing that these are fundamental rights that ought to be recognized,” Carney said. “And we expect that Congress will, as I said, get on the road toward progress that so many in this country have been traveling on these issues.”

Obama’s words this week mark a significant change in tone from what he’s previously said on the issue of bypassing Congress and issuing executive orders to enact new policy.

In November during a fundraiser for the Democratic National Committee in San Francisco, Obama was heckled by an audience member who kept shouting “executive order.” Although the protester didn’t make clear on what issue he was seeking executive action, Obama responded that his belief generally is that he shouldn’t bypass Congress.

“There is no shortcut to politics,” Obama said. “And there’s no shortcut to democracy. And we have to win on the merits of the argument with the American people. As laborious as it seems sometimes, as much misinformation as there is out there sometimes, as frustrating as it may be sometimes, what we have to do is just keep on going, keep on pushing.”

The reason for the change in tone could be attributable to a new face on the White House staff. John Podesta has recently joined the staff as a counselor to Obama. During his time building the Center for American Progress as its founder, Podesta was a strong advocate of use of executive power by the president.

In a 2010 report titled, “The Power of the President: Recommendations to Advance Positive Change,” Podesta advocates for the use of executive power for Obama to advance job creation and economic competitiveness and to improve education, health care and security.

“Concentrating on executive powers presents a real opportunity for the Obama administration to turn its focus away from a divided Congress and the unappetizing process of making legislative sausage,” Podesta writes. “Instead, the administration can focus on the president’s ability to deliver results for the American people on the things that matter most to them.”

Winnie Stachelberg, vice president of external affairs at the Center for American Progress, insisted that Obama has asserted he has the prerogative to exercise executive authority, saying she supports him doing so for LGBT workers.

“I think his comments this week and comments from others who are senior advisers at the White House that he will act if Congress doesn’t is in keeping with what he has said in his first term and in the past year in his second term,” Stachelberg said. “He has been clear that he wants to work with Congress on issues that challenge our country, but where and when Congress won’t act, he will use the authority that he has.”

Obama will likely flesh out what he intends to pursue through executive action during his annual State of the Union Address before a joint session of Congress on Jan. 28. Although the details of the speech are under wraps, Obama has already disclosed he’ll talk about mobilizing the country around a national mission of ensuring the economy offers all hardworking Americans a fair shot at success.

Tico Almeida, president of Freedom to Work, identified another item that Obama should bring up during the State of the Union speech: pushing the U.S. House to finish the job on ENDA.

“We will keep pushing for an ENDA vote in the House of Representatives in 2014, and we hope the president will use the State of the Union Address to call for that vote, but the very best thing he can do right now is lead by example and sign the executive order,” Almeida said.

Advocates of workplace protections pushed Obama to sign the directive prior to his campaign to win a second term, but the White House announced it wouldn’t happen at that time. Despite a presumption the president would sign the measure once re-elected, there was no change in the White House position following Election Day.

After first lady Michelle Obama was heckled during a DNC fundraiser over the executive order, renewed pressure was placed on the White House, and advocates had renewed hopes Obama would announce he would sign the order at the annual Pride reception at the White House. Instead, Obama took the opportunity to renew his call for ENDA passage.

Finally, amid questions over whether Obama would sign the executive order once ENDA made it halfway through Congress and passed the Senate, the White House indicated there was still no change in plans.

Dan Pinello, a political scientist at the City University of New York, didn’t put much stock in the notion that things would change this time around — despite the president’s words.

“My guess is that Obama would not issue an executive order that might unduly upset the business community,” Pinello said. “He’s been fairly deferential to them.”

Pinello added most federal contractors are large enough business entities that they likely have LGBT non-discrimination provisions already in place with regard to LGBT people.

“Thus, there might be significantly diminished returns from such an executive order, especially in light of the antagonism potentially felt by those small contractors who’d feel put upon by the action,” Pinello said. “So I’d be surprised if Obama did it.”

17
Jan
2014

Carney: Ariz. anti-gay bill sounds ‘pretty intolerant’

Jay Carney, White House, gay news, Washington Blade

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney (Washington Blade file photo by Damien Salas)

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney was cautious in his response Tuesday when asked about a controversial “license to discriminate” bill in Arizona, saying the legislation sounds “pretty intolerant” without directly expressing opposition to the measure.

Under questioning from NBC News’ Peter Alexander, Carney said the administration doesn’t generally weigh in on state legislation, but the president’s support for LGBT rights is well known.

“Well, my suggestion yesterday that it sounded like a pretty intolerant proposed law, I think, reflects our views,” Carney said. “As a practice, we don’t generally weigh in on every piece of legislation under consideration in the states, but I think the president’s position on equality for LGBT Americans and opportunity for all is very well known. And he believes that all of us, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity should be treated fairly and equally, with dignity and respect. That view would govern our disposition toward a state law under consideration.”

Now that both chambers of the Arizona Legislature have approved the bill, it comes before Gov. Jan Brewer, who has to decide whether to sign or veto the bill. If enacted, it would expand the state’s definition of exercise of religion to allow businesses and individuals to discriminate based on religious reasons. Critics say the measure is aimed at allowing discrimination against LGBT people.

Brewer was among the attendees in Washington for a meeting of the National Governors Association. Asked whether President Obama spoke with Brewer about the legislation, Carney said he’s “not aware” of any such talks.

Although the White House has yet to articulate direct opposition to the bill, others who have weighed in opposing it include Apple, Inc. and the Arizona Chamber of Commerce. Additionally, the Arizona-based American Airlines has called on Brewer to veto the bill as well as both U.S. senators from the state: Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.).

Major LGBT rights groups have refrained from calling on Obama to speak out on the bill. The generally unstated view among LGBT advocates is that vocal opposition to the bill from Obama may actually act as an incentive for Brewer to sign it. The two have a history of hostility, which includes an exchange in which Brewer publicly pointed her finger in his face at an Arizona airport.

As the Blade reported on Monday, Eunice Rho, an advocacy and policy counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union said lawmakers behind legislation like the one in Arizona “don’t care much for what the president says or thinks” on policy matters.

Meanwhile, the Human Rights Campaign is pointing to a “chorus of voices” in a statement that have already denounced Arizona’s controversial proposal as the organization maintains it and similar bills in other states are bad both for civil rights and businesses.

“These bills are bad for business, bad for the LGBT community and bad for all Americans,” said HRC President Chad Griffin. “These bills have nothing to do with faith and everything to do with shameful discrimination. Make no mistake about it; states that do enact these bills into law will face less investment, fewer jobs and a reputation for standing on the wrong side of history.”

25
Feb
2014

Carney silent on Putin’s latest anti-gay remarks

White House Press Secretary, Jay Carney, Gay News, Washington Blade

White House Press Secretary, Jay Carney dismissed question on the anti-gay situation in Russia (Washington Blade file photo by Damien Salas).

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney had no comment on Thursday regarding a series of questions about the anti-gay climate in Russia, saying he had not seen new media reports on which the inquiries were based.

Under questioning from the Washington Blade, Carney had no comment on Russian President Vladimir Putin’s recent remarks that Russia must “clean up” anything that would impair the nation’s birth rate in regards to the anti-gay atmosphere in the country.

“Well, I didn’t see that report,” Carney said. “Our views on this issue and legislation that’s been passed in Russia have been clearly expressed. So I can’t comment on that particular report except that we obviously believe it is very much in the interest of Russia to conduct an Olympics that welcomes everyone.”

Amid calls on President Obama to invoke the Magnitsky Act to freeze the assets of Russian lawmakers who are fostering the anti-gay atmosphere in the country, Carney again professed to have no knowledge of those calls.

“I haven’t seen that report and I don’t have any update on our position on the Magnitsky Act,” Carney said. “But you can be sure that our views about universal rights and specifically LGBT rights are clearly expressed with regards to, whether it’s Russia or elsewhere, actions taken by countries that are in conflict with those principles.”

Russia has come under international scrutiny as the Winter Olympic approach in Sochi because of the reports of the anti-gay climate, especially the recently enacted law barring pro-gay propaganda.

Carney was also unable to say whether President Obama had discussed the anti-gay atmosphere with Putin during a phone call between the two presidents on Tuesday. According to a White House readout of the call, the two talked about Olympics security, Iran and efforts to disarm Syria of chemical weapons.

“I don’t have a further readout beyond what we provided,” Carney said.

Jamie Kirchick, a gay journalist who has urged the Obama administration to employ the Magnitsky Act against those behind anti-gay abuses in Russia, expressed dismay with Carney’s remarks.

“It is sad to see the administration continue to sacrifice America’s national interests — which includes promoting the human rights of all Russians, LGBT ones included — in pursuit of the chimera of improved U.S.-Russian relations,” Kirchick said. “From Syria to gay rights, Putin is spinning circles around us. The administration should answer the queries of those in Congress wanting to know why it failed to name any more Russian human rights abusers to the Magnitsky List.”

24
Jan
2014

Carney: Brewer ‘did the right thing’ by vetoing anti-gay bill

Jay Carney, White House, gay news, Washington Blade

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer “did the right thing” by vetoing an anti-gay bill (Washington Blade file photo by Damien Salas).

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said Friday Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer “did the right thing” by vetoing a controversial bill that would have enabled discrimination in her state against LGBT people.

In response to question from Sirius XM Radio’s Jared Rizzi, Carney articulated Obama’s support for Brewer’s veto of SB 1062, which would have enabled individuals and businesses to refuse services to individuals — including LGBT people — if engaging in that act violated a person’s religious beliefs.

“As I have noted, we don’t weigh in as a rule on every piece of legislation, but the president does believe that Gov. Brewer did the right thing by vetoing this bill,” Carney said.

Prior to the veto, Carney said the legislation sounds “pretty intolerant,” but didn’t offer full-throated opposition to the measure as no LGBT advocates called on Obama to weigh in. However, following a national outcry, including opposition from business leaders, Republican lawmakers and LGBT advocates, Brewer vetoed the legislation on Wednesday.

Carney’s words mark the first time the White House itself has spoken out on the Arizona bill in the aftermath’s of Brewer’s veto, although Labor Secretary Thomas Perez talked about it Thursday during an interview on MSNBC, saying the legislature’s approval of the measure was “personally baffling” as he renewed the administration’s call for the Employment Non-Discrimination Act.

But as the Daily Beast’s Scott Bixby notes, anti-LGBT discrimination is still allowed in Arizona even in the aftermath of Brewer’s veto. Arizona state law affords no protection to LGBT people either in public accommodations or employment, and no federal protections exist explicitly barring employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.

Under questioning from the Washington Blade, Carney said he had no updates when asked if President Obama sees an opportunity to sign a heavily sought-after executive order barring anti-LGBT job bias among federal contractors following the outcry over LGBT discrimination that lead to the Arizona veto.

“I don’t have any update on that matter,” Carney said. “We, of course, hope very much that further action will be taken in Congress on the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, a bill that if it became law would be far more comprehensive in its effect. But, as a general matter — and I said this about the Arizona bill last week — the president believes that all Americans regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity should be treated fairly and equally with dignity and respect.”

Still, Carney went on to acknowledge that the national outcry over the proposed legislation was significant and said Brewer’s veto was symbolic of the country’s progress on LGBT issues.

“And it was gratifying to see Americans from all walks of life, including business leaders, faith leaders, regardless of party, speak out against this measure — and it’s further evidence that the American people fundamentally believe in equality, and it’s time to get on the right side of history,” Carney said. “And as I mentioned before, I think we all note with pride and amazement the progress that this country has made on these issues in recent years, and I think this veto reflects on that progress, and on the sentiment of the American progress.”

When the Blade pointed that an executive order would be a much quicker way to capitalize on the symbolic nature of the veto because the legislative process in Congress would take longer, Carney once again turned to ENDA.

“Again, I don’t have new information to provide to you on a hypothetical executive order,” Carney said. “When I can tell you is we do support legislation that would enshrine in law the non-discrimination approach the president believes is the right approach for the country.”

28
Feb
2014

Carney won’t say if ENDA will come up in State of the Union

Jay Carney, White House, gay news, Washington Blade

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney won’t say if Obama include LGBT workers in the State of the Union (Washington Blade photo by Damien Salas).

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney held his cards close to his vest Monday on what President Obama will say during his upcoming State of the Union speech, including whether it’ll include any reference to non-discrimination protections for LGBT workers.

Amid expectations President Obama will make an effort to mobilize the nation against income inequality during the speech, Carney wouldn’t draw a direct connection when asked by Washington Blade if the president sees the lack of federal protections for LGBT workers as an income inequality issue.

“The president believes that we ought to pass an Employment Non-Discrimination Act because it’s the right thing to do for LGBT Americans, and it’s the right thing to do for our economy, full stop,” Carney said. “So, I don’t have a particular analysis behind that because the sentiment is pretty clear.”

But when asked if that response rules out the possibility of ENDA or a heavily sought executive order barring LGBT workplace discrimination among federal contractors from coming up during the State of the Union, Carney refused to say.

“I really have no more details to provide on the content of the State of the Union address,” Carney said.

Carney declined during the news briefing to divulge details about Obama’s speech with respect to any issue. The White House spokesperson refused to comment on whether the president will talk about gun control, the pipeline Keystone XL, NSA surveillance or certain foreign policy issues.

LGBT advocates are pressing Obama to call for ENDA passage, pledge to sign an executive order barring LGBT workplace discrimination and bring up the word “transgender” for the first time in a State of the Union address.

27
Jan
2014

Business now greatest ally in LGBT equality pursuit

LGBT equality, corporate, cooperation, gay news, Washington Blade

Corporate leadership on LGBT equality should be embraced as an asset in broadening civil adoption and cultural acceptance.

“The Fortune 500 is the most effective lobby for gay rights.”

So declared television journalist George Stephanopoulos, a former Democratic Party adviser, last Sunday on the political news program he hosts.

Stephanopoulos was referencing the widely acknowledged role that business played in Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer’s veto last week of state Senate Bill 1062. The legislation would have extended the legal shield granted to religious institutions against being sued for denying service to persons based on religious beliefs. Existing law would have been broadened to include “any individual, association, partnership, corporation, church, religious assembly or institution or other business organization” provided the required religious beliefs were “sincerely held” and a lawsuit or other sanction would substantially burden the exercise of them.

Public focus on developments in Arizona, and to a lesser extent similar bills being considered in other states, was widespread – as was public disdain. Business leaders, industry organizations and corporate entities are credited with prompting Brewer’s decision.

Clarion corporate antipathy, both within the state and across the country, was decisive. Business pressure for a veto, both in the public arena and behind the scenes, was pervasive and engaged businesses both small and large. Brewer prominently referenced business opposition when announcing she had halted the law. The next day White House Press Secretary Jay Carney first identified business when enumerating those who had successfully contributed to the bill’s demise.

Government has long been a lagging indicator of popular opinion and tardy in implementing policy revisions. Public sentiment on LGBT civil equality has outpaced legislative action at the federal level and in most state and local jurisdictions. Large numbers of businesses have led the way in implementing a complement of now commonplace protections in the workplace, usually much earlier and often more broadly than those guaranteed by the actions of either elected officials or government bureaucracies.

Since the landmark adoption in 1975 of sexual orientation employment protections by AT&T, fair treatment has expanded exponentially among businesses. In its Corporate Equality Index for 2014, the Human Rights Campaign reports that historic numbers of American businesses “champion LGBT equality” – including 91 percent of Fortune 500 companies providing explicit protections on the basis of sexual orientation. Growth in recent years has accelerated at unprecedented rates.

Business leaders and organizations understand that embracing modern standards of equitable treatment is essential to attracting and retaining talent and best maintaining a corporate environment encouraging success. Companies also require the ability to relocate employees absent reluctance based on the territorial legal implications for workers and families. Larger enterprise with centers of commerce spanning geographic locations and political jurisdictions have little patience for the burden of managing the administration of variable tax and benefit policies or suffering inconsistencies in workplace matters.

Disgruntlement with differing jurisdictional same-sex marriage laws, for example, will likely speed laggard federal regulatory and benefit clarifications as well as spur national uniformity. Business advocacy could prove to be a notable incentive for encouraging both a national right to marry and consistent conveyance of privileges and obligations.

Ironically, should the federal Employment Non-Discrimination Act be enacted its practical significance will be largely illusory, outpaced by wholesale prior corporate implementation as standard practice. The numerous exemptions stipulated in the long-languishing legislation will leave untouched the small segment of micro-businesses and other institutions most likely to include the relative few who would desire to resist compliance if affected. In local jurisdictions with similar laws, legal claims have been nearly nonexistent – softening business concerns regarding the potential volume of frivolous or retaliatory complaints and the expense of defending against them.

Business affirmation and advancement of fair and equal treatment offers benefit of normalizing the notion and strengthening community support. Corporate leadership on LGBT equality should be embraced as an asset in broadening civil adoption and cultural acceptance. It is imperative that allies be acknowledged instead of permitting those promoting a perpetual state of alienation to prevail.

Enterprise is not the enemy.

Mark Lee is a long-time entrepreneur and community business advocate. Follow on Twitter: @MarkLeeDC. Reach him at OurBusinessMatters@gmail.com.

04
Mar
2014

Carney defends absence of ENDA in State of the Union

White House Press Secretary, Jay Carney, Gay News, Washington Blade

White House Press Secretary, Jay Carney insists Obama continues to support ENDA despite its absence from the State of the Union address (Washington Blade photo by Damien Salas).

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney maintained Wednesday that President Obama continues to support the Employment Non-Discrimination Act despite the lack of any mention of the bill in the State of the Union address.

Carney brought up ENDA as one measure Obama continues to push Congress to send to his desk, as well as comprehensive immigration reform, when asked during a press gaggle aboard Air Force One  about the extent to which Obama can use his executive authority generally.

Although President Obama didn’t mention ENDA or an executive order barring LGBT discrimination among federal contractors during the State of the Union address on Tuesday, Carney said no president articulates “everything he wants done” during the address and Obama’s record on LGBT rights is “crystal clear.”

“When it comes to the Employment Non-discrimination Act, he is fiercely supportive of that effort, enormously gratified by the fact the Senate took action and very hopeful that the House will follow suit,” Carney said. “Because as I’ve said many times, reflecting his opinion, members of the House who block this are being left at the station as the train moves forward on what would obviously be an America where equal rights are extended to all Americans. So I think his record on LGBT rights is crystal-clear, his position is crystal-clear, and he continues to press Congress to take action on ENDA.”

LGBT advocates — most notably the Human Rights Campaign — criticized Obama for failing to include in his address ENDA or the LGBT executive order, saying those measures would have fit well in the speech’s theme of advancing the economy for every American. Additionally, the president’s declaration that would sign an executive order to raise the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour for federal contractors raised questions about why he hasn’t done the same to protect LGBT people from job discrimination.

Although Obama didn’t include a mention of ENDA in his speech, the legislation was included in a fact sheet distributed to reporters prior to the State of the Union address. It said Obama “renews his call for the House” to approve ENDA in the wake of bipartisan passage in the Senate last year.

Despite the White House’s assurance that Obama continues to push for ENDA, passage in the Republican-controlled House faces significant challenges. Just before the transcript of Carney’s remarks were public, the Washington Blade broke a news story that House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) told the LGBT Equality Caucus wouldn’t get done by the year’s end.

The exchange between the reporter and Carney follows:

Q: And on this broad question again of using executive authority, are there particular sectors where you think — having done this assessment — where you think it will be most effective? I mean, obviously you’re very focused on a couple of economic initiatives now, but beyond that, can you just give us a sense of where are the areas where you think the President has the most leverage to do it?

MR. CARNEY: Well, it depends on what kind of use of the pen and the phone you’re asking about. When it comes to executive orders like the one to raise the minimum wage for federal contracts, that depends obviously on analysis of where he has the authority to do things. He has a much broader capacity to lift up and rally support around issues like the need to expand educational opportunity, access to education, or the need to connect skills training to employers.

You saw that with the summit a few weeks ago. You’ve seen it, another use of his authority in the establishment of manufacturing institutes, and he said last night that he intends to create four by the end of the year. And that obviously has enormous beneficial impact on the continued revival of manufacturing in this country.

So I think the opportunities are pretty broad. But we shouldn’t look at what a President can do simply through the prism of what legislation can get passed, nor should we look at what a President can do using the power of his office only through the ability to sign executive orders or presidential memoranda, because another aspect of his office and the authority is not specific to those issues. I want to be clear. This is not — I’m not foreshadowing anything. But obviously, the President did not enumerate everything he wants done and everything he supports in his State of the Union address. No President ever has.

When it comes to the Employment Non-discrimination Act, he is fiercely supportive of that effort, enormously gratified by the fact the Senate took action and very hopeful that the House will follow suit. Because as I’ve said many times, reflecting his opinion, members of the House who block this are being left at the station as the train moves forward on what would obviously be an America where equal rights are extended to all Americans. So I think his record on LGBT rights is crystal-clear, his position is crystal-clear, and he continues to press Congress to take action on ENDA.

More broadly, there is a great opportunity — greater in 2014 than we’ve ever seen — to pass comprehensive immigration reform in a way that meets the principles the President laid out, that reflects the support of one of the most diverse coalitions you’ve ever seen behind legislation, including business and labor, law enforcement, faith communities, Republicans and Democrats around the country. And we are hopeful and optimistic that the House will follow the Senate’s lead and this year pass comprehensive immigration reform.

The President has made clear that the way to address this issue is through a bill that takes action on security, on making sure everybody is playing by the same set of rules, on reforming our legal immigration system to make sure that all those super-smart people from around the world who come and study in our universities are able to stay here and start businesses in America so that the jobs of the future are here, and that creates a process by which the 11 million undocumented people in America are able to get in line and attain citizenship.

So we remain, as the President said, hopeful and optimistic that there is progress on this important matter. I think Congress will act.

30
Jan
2014

Carney reiterates support for ENDA

Jay Carney, White House, gay news, Washington Blade

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney had no comment when asked about an ENDA executive order. (Washington Blade file photo by Damien Salas)

Amid continued calls for administrative action on behalf of LGBT federal workers, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney reiterated President Obama’s support for ENDA but didn’t directly address the proposed executive order barring LGBT workplace discrimination.

Asked by the Washington Blade about the letter lawmakers are circulating on Capitol Hill urging Obama to sign the directive, Carney suggested Congress should focus on passing the Employment Non-Discrimination Act.

“Our view is that Congress ought to pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act,” Carney said. “I don’t have any updates for you on possible executive orders, what we’re focused on is on a legislative remedy that would be more comprehensive and has already seen progress in Congress. So, I don’t have a view to express on that particular issue.”

The LGBT Equality Caucus and Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) are circulating a missive on Capitol Hill urging Obama to sign the order as part of his proposed “Year of Action” in 2014. A source familiar with the letter said the opportunity to sign onto the letter would close out at the end of Monday.

Here’s the Q&A:

Washington Blade: The LGBT Equality Caucus and Sen. Jeff Merkley are circulating a letter on Capitol Hill calling on President Obama to sign an executive order protecting LGBT workers from discrimination. Does the president want to see supporters of that action like the lawmakers behind this letter to continue encouraging him to sign it?

Jay Carney: Our view is that Congress ought to pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act. I don’t have any updates for you on possible executive orders, what we’re focused on is on a legislative remedy that would be more comprehensive and has already seen progress in Congress. So, I don’t have a view to express on that particular issue.

10
Mar
2014

Carney riled by questions on ENDA executive order

Jay Carney, White House, gay news, Washington Blade

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney had a testy exchange with the Blade over the ENDA executive order (Washington Blade file photo by Damien Salas).

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney had few answers on Friday about a heavily sought executive order from President Obama barring LGBT workplace discrimination during an exchange with the Washington Blade that ended testily.

Responding to the Blade report that House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) told the LGBT Equality Caucus there’s “no way” the Employment Non-Discrimination Act would get done this year, Carney said when asked if it’s time for the federal contractor executive order that House leadership often brings up bills even after making such declarations.

“I would simply say that that is the wrong approach,” Carney said. “The president strongly supports the Employment Non-Discrimination Act. He believes strongly and knows that it’s the right thing to do. I would suggest that there have been occasions when leaders in the House have declared something won’t happen, and it happens anyway. And we certainly hope that’s the case here.”

UPDATE: In a subsequent tweet, Carney clarified that he was referring to the speaker’s remarks as the “wrong approach,” not the executive order.

President Obama continues to withhold the executive order as LGBT advocates say the directive is a campaign promise from his 2008 president campaign.

Asked whether the president shares the view the executive order is a campaign promise, Carney dodged.

“I can simply tell, you, Chris, I don’t have any updates for you on the issue of a hypothetical executive order for LGBT non-discrimination for federal contractors,” Carney said. “We’re focused right now on the legislation, which, again has made progress in Congress and we’re going to keep pushing on it.”

The exchanged ended with Carney calling on another reporter in the White House briefing room without responding to the final question from the Blade.

A partial transcript of the exchange follows:

Washington Blade: Thanks, Jay. The Washington Blade reported this week that Speaker Boehner told the LGBT Equality Caucus there’s “no way” the Employment Non-Discrimination Act will get done this session. Given that forecast from the speaker, is it time for the president to sign an executive order to protect LGBT workers from discrimination?

Jay Carney: Well, I would simply say that that is the wrong approach, and the president strongly supports the Employment Non-Discrimination Act. He believes strongly and knows that it’s the right thing to do. I would suggest that there have been occasions when leaders in the House have declared something won’t happen, and it happens anyway. And we certainly hope that’s the case here.

Blade: But if the president is saying he “strong supports” the legislation, and the president is saying there’s “no way” the bill is coming up, so what will it take for the president to sign that executive order?

Carney: Chris, you know, we’ve talked about this a lot. The president believes that an Employment Non-Discrimination Act signed into law is the right way to go here. And we strongly support, and put a lot of energy behind that effort. I don’t think a lot of people predicted it would pass the Senate, but it did, and one person’s opposition to it in the House does not dissuade us from pressing for its passage, and its arriving on the president’s desk so he can sign it into law. We’re going to keep pushing on that.

Blade: LGBT advocates who are pushing for that executive order say it’s a campaign promise from the president. Is that a view the president shares?

Carney: I can simply tell, you, Chris, I don’t have any updates for you on the issue of a hypothetical executive order for LGBT non-discrimination for federal contractors. We’re focused right now on the legislation, which, again has made progress in Congress and we’re going to keep pushing on it.

Blade: In an apparent 2007 questionnaire —

Carney: I want to give others —

Blade: — one last question in. In an apparent 2007 questionnaire to the Houston GLBT Political Caucus signed by then-candidate Obama, the president was asked if he supports for a formal written policy against LGBT discrimination for federal contractors. The response was simply “yes.” How is that not a campaign promise?

Carney: Chris, I’ve answered this question. We believe that right way to go is to pass legislation that applies to everyone that enshrines in law the equal rights that the Employment Non-Discrimination Act spells out. So, I don’t have an update for you on the other issue —

Blade: So you’re disputing the assertions of the president’s supporters on this issue?

Carney: Cheryl.

NOTE: Although the Blade stated during the White House briefing the apparent questionnaire response was from 2007, it was actually dated in 2008.

31
Jan
2014

Carney quiet on St. Patrick’s Day parades, trans military service

Jay Carney, White House, gay news, Washington Blade

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney has no comment on boycotts of St. Patrick Day’s parades or transgender military service. (Washington Blade file photo by Damien Salas)

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney had no comment Monday about two issues in the news: decisions to boycott St. Patrick’s Day parades over LGBT exclusion and lifting the ban on openly transgender service members in the U.S. military.

Carney said he hasn’t spoken to President Obama about boycotts of parades in New York City and Boston — including by the mayors of those cities — as a result of organizers prohibiting LGBT contingents from identifying themselves as such during the march.

“The president does oppose discrimination, but I haven’t talked to him about boycotts of those parades,” Carney said.

The Blade also asked Carney why President Obama would act to freeze the assets of Russian officials connected to the country’s military incursion into Ukraine, but not take the same step for lawmakers responsible for Russia’s anti-gay laws. Carney said the actions taken against Russia with respect to Ukraine “are focused on the very real violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity that we’ve been talking about.”

As reported by the Blade, Yelena Mizulina, a sponsor of the controversial anti-gay propaganda law and state Duma deputy, was actually among those whose assets were frozen. The White House deferred comment on whether her authorship of the law contributed to Obama’s decision to freeze her assets to the Treasury Department. [UPDATE: A Treasury Department official said Mizulina's connection to the anti-gay law didn't contribute to Obama's decision to freeze her assets and she was sanctioned "because of her status as a senior Russian government official."]

With regard to a recent Palm Center report saying there’s “no compelling medical reason” to continue prohibition of openly transgender service members in the military, Carney deferred to the Defense Department. Lt. Cmdr. Nate Christensen, a Pentagon spokesperson, said ”there are no plans to change the department’s policy and regulations which do not allow transgender individuals to serve in the U.S. military.”

The brief transcript of the Q&A follows:

Washington Blade: Lots to talk about. On St. Patrick’s Day, a number of beer companies announced they wouldn’t sponsor parades in New York City and Boston as Mayors Bill de Blasio and Marty Walsh announced they would boycott the ones in their own cities because LGBT contingents were allowed to identify themselves as such during the march. Does the president believe those boycotts were the right decision?

Jay Carney: I haven’t spoken to the president about those boycotts.

Blade: You said before the president opposes discrimination. Wouldn’t that principle apply to those parades here?

Carney: The president does oppose discrimination, but I haven’t talked to him about boycotts of those parades.

Blade: On Russia. If the president will impose sanctions on officials connected to military incursion into Ukraine, why hasn’t he done the same for the officials responsible for the anti-gay laws in Russia, say by freezing their assets under the Magnitsky Act?

Carney: We’ve made our views abundantly clear about that kind of legislation and about efforts to undermine the civil rights of Russian citizens, but the actions we’ve taken today and the sanctions that have been announced today are focused on the very real violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity that we’ve been talking about.

Blade: And lastly, the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” enabled openly gay people to serve in the U.S. military, but transgender people are still barred because of medical regulations. Last week, an independent commission led by a former U.S. surgeon general issued a report saying there’s no compelling medical reason to [continue] this ban and called on the Commander-in-Chief to lift it. Will the president direct the Pentagon to lift the ban on transgender service?

Carney: I don’t have anything on that. I’ll have to direct you to the Pentagon at this point.

17
Mar
2014