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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

W.H. adviser says ENDA executive order ‘under consideration’

White House adviser John Podesta says the ENDA executive order is "under consideration." (Screenshot via Bloomberg News).

White House adviser John Podesta says the ENDA executive order is “under consideration.” (Screenshot via Bloomberg News).

In a departure from previous public comments from the Obama administration, White House counselor John Podesta said on Friday an executive order barring LGBT discrimination among federal contractors is “under consideration.”

During an interview with Bloomberg News’ Al Hunt, Podesta made the remarks when asked if President Obama would issue a heavily sought-after executive order prohibiting federal contractors from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.

“Well, what he said in the State of the Union was he was going to require federal contractors to pay a minimum wage of $10.10,” Podesta said. “The order that you’re talking about is under consideration at the White House. We’re looking at that.”

Asked by Hunt what Obama is likely to do, Podesta said, “Well, you know, I’m not going to prejudge that.”

Podesta’s assertion the executive order is “under consideration” is consistent with an email from Democratic National Committee Treasurer Andy Tobias leaked to the Washington Blade in June in which he said a “process” is holding up the directive. It’s also consistent with a one-time statement from White House spokesperson Shin Inouye that the administration “continue[s] to study the issue.”

When questioned about Podesta’s remarks on Saturday, Inouye repeated the more familiar refrain that the administration has no updates on an executive order.

“We continue to urge Congress to pass ENDA,” Inouye said. “We have no further updates on this issue.”

While LGBT advocates continue to scratch their heads over why Obama hasn’t issued the executive order and maintain the directive is one of his campaign promises, Podesta couldn’t identify a reason to withhold the order when pressed by Hunt.

Saying the administration continues to push for passage of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act — legislation that would bar LGBT discrimination in the workforce — Podesta maintained the White House wants to see “whether that’s possible.”

“I think the argument against doing it — there is no real argument against non-discrimination in the workplace,” Podesta said. “I think the question is we’ve been putting the forward the effort to get a comprehensive ENDA through the Congress. We’ll see whether that’s possible.”

Tico Almeida, president of Freedom to Work, welcomed the comments from Podesta, but said the time for consideration of the executive order is over.

“It’s great to hear Mr. Podesta say that the LGBT executive order is still under consideration at the White House, and I know that many LGBT organizations plan to keep pushing until this long overdue campaign promise becomes a reality,” Almeida said. “But I don’t think there’s anything left to study or consider: both Republican and Democratic presidents before President Obama have signed orders banning discrimination at federal contractors and they’ve always been upheld in the courts. This order fits perfectly with the White House plans for a ‘year of action,’ and the time to sign is now.”

Podesta, who recently joined the White House staff as counselor after serving as president for the Center for American Progress, has a reputation for supporting executive action for U.S. presidents. 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 as well as to improve education, health care and security.

The assertion the executive order is “under consideration” contradicts statements from the White House that the directive is “hypothetical” in nature. On the same day Podesta made the remarks, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney characterized the directive as “hypothetical” when questioned by the Blade.

01
Feb
2014

Nearly 200 lawmakers seek action from Obama for LGBT workers

Steny Hoyer, Maryland, United States House of Representatives, gay news, Washington Blade, Democratic Party, U.S. Congress

House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) was the highest-ranking congressman to call for the ENDA executive order. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

As legislation to protect LGBT workers from discrimination continues to languish in the U.S. House, an unprecedented number of nearly 200 lawmakers on Tuesday — including members of House Democratic leadership — called on President Obama to take administrative action.

In a letter dated March 18, 148 House members and 47 senators — making for a total of 195 lawmakers — urged Obama to sign an executive order barring federal contractors from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity as part of his plan for a “Year of Action” in 2014.

“As we continue to work towards final passage of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) with strong bipartisan support, we urge you to take action now to protection millions of workers across the country from the threat of discrimination simply because of who they are or who they love,” the letter says. “We are committed to doing all that we can in Congress to get ENDA to your desk this year; however, there is no reason you cannot immediately act by taking this important step.”

The letter says “time is of an essence” for a signature on the executive order because even when that happens, a process that “will take many months, if not longer” to implement the directive fully will be necessary.

In the House, the letter was circulated by the LGBT Equality Caucus along with Reps. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) and Lois Capps (D-Calif.), while ENDA’s chief sponsor in the Senate Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) circulated the letter in that chamber with Sens. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) and Tom Harkin (D-Iowa).

It’s not the first time members of Congress have penned their names to a letter calling on Obama to take administrative action to protect LGBT workers from discrimination. In 2011, Pallone and Capps led an effort to sign a similar letter, which at the time was signed by 72 House members. In 2013, they circulated another letter on the issue signed by 110 House members as Merkley submitted yet another missive signed by 37 senators.

The series of letters from lawmakers over the course of recent years — in addition to regular questioning on the issue for White House Press Secretary Jay Carney — have been to Obama on the executive order as LGBT advocates have pressed for it for some time.

But the latest missive has more lawmakers calling for the executive order than the 2013 letter and, for the first time, has members of Democratic leadership as signatories: House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) and Assistant Minority Leader Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.). The Blade first reported Hoyer would sign the letter on Monday.

Although House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi has publicly said she supports the executive order as far back as 2011 she didn’t sign the letter. Drew Hammill, a Pelosi spokesperson, said his boss rarely signs group letters and would raise the issue in a private missive to Obama.

Also missing from the letter is Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), who also gave his green light for the potential directive in January. Reid’s office indicated that he doesn’t typically sign member letters.

Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.), chair of the Democratic National Committee, also didn’t pen her name to the letter. Last week, sources told the Blade she had discouraged members from signing previous iterations of the letter, but her office called that assertion a “bald-faced lie.” She hasn’t articulated support for the executive order.

Not a single Republican signed the letter. Not one of the 10 Republicans who voted for the Employment Non-Discrimination Act in the Senate late last year or any of the six GOP co-sponsors of ENDA in the House penned their name to the missive.

Tico Almeida, president of Freedom to Work, said his organization helped to secure signatures for the letter — and hopes it’ll be the last time the effort is necessary.

“This week, we collaborated with the Equality Caucus for the third time to collect signatures on the 2014 letter to President Obama on the same topic,” Almeida said. “These year-after-year delays from the White House are making this all start to feel like Bill Murray’s ‘Groundhog Day,’ and I really hope we don’t have to push for yet another congressional letter to President Obama in 2015 or 2016 or a letter to President Hillary Clinton in 2017. It’s long past time for President Obama to keep his word and create LGBT workplace protections at the companies that profit from taxpayer-funded contracts.”

The White House has responded to other letters like this one in the past by saying it has no updates to provide on a “hypothetical” executive order protecting LGBT workers. It didn’t respond to comment on the latest letter.

Last week, Carney reiterated Obama’s support for the Employment Non-Discrimination Act when asked about the executive order.

“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 that has already seen progress in Congress. So I don’t have a view to express on that particular issue.”

Lawmakers who organized the signature-gathering for the letter in both the House and Senate issued their own words on the importance of Obama signing the executive order.

Merkley said signing the executive order would help ensure LGBT people have access to equal opportunity in the workplace.

“All Americans deserve fairness in the workplace,” Merkley said. “There is no reason to wait any longer to extend non-discrimination policies to federal contractors and protect millions of Americans from being fired for who they are or who they love.”

Capps said in a statement she hopes Obama “will immediately sign an executive order” to protect LGBT workers against discrimination.

“This issue has lingered for far too long and this year, in the president’s year of action, he should take this opportunity to expand employment protections,” Capps said. “Doing so would be a significant and meaningful advancement for LGBT Americans—legally, politically, and culturally. With workers across the country facing discrimination every day, the time is now to make sure workplace discrimination isn’t supported by taxpayer funds.”

As Capps observes, the Williams Institute published a report finding that the executive would extend non-discrimination protections to the estimated 16.5 million employees at federal contractors. (The number of people within this population who are LGBT is estimated to be smaller and between 400,000 and 600,000 people.)

Capps added that she been pushing Obama to sign the executive order for years and “will not stop pushing this issue — it is time for the president to act.”

18
Mar
2014

6 hints that ENDA exec order may be coming

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

White House Press Secretary, Jay Carney insists an executive order for LGBT workers is “hypothetical” (Washington Blade photo by Damien Salas).

If you tuned into his daily news conferences, you might get the sense from White House Press Secretary Jay Carney that the administration isn’t actively considering an executive order that would bar federal contractors from discriminating against LGBT workers.

One word that Carney often uses to describe the much sought directive is “hypothetical.”

That’s the word he used on Thursday when asked about the latest piece of evidence the order may be forthcoming — White House counselor John Podesta’s assertion on Bloomberg TV  that the executive order is “under consideration.”

“I don’t have any updates on that hypothetical EO; I can tell you that we strongly support action by the House in keeping with what the Senate did to get the Employment Non-Discrimination Act passed into law,” Carney said.

Speaking more to the point of Podesta’s assertion about an LGBT directive, Carney said “we look at and consider a lot things,” which neither confirms nor denies the directive is being discussed in the West Wing.

Instead, Carney took the opportunity to highlight President Obama’s support for ENDA, legislation that would bar employers from discriminating against or firing LGBT workers.

“If you look at the data on this issue — and specifically on the Employment Non-Discrimination Act — I think it is overwhelmingly demonstrated that this has the support of the American people across the country,” Carney said. “And as I’ve said again and again, this is — history is moving on this issue in the right direction, and opposing these kinds of things means finding yourself on the wrong side of history.”

The Senate passed ENDA on a bipartisan basis in September by a 64-32 vote. But the bill has seen no movement in the House, where Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) has continually said he opposes it. Last week, the Washington Blade reported that Boehner told the LGBT Equality Caucus there’s “no way” ENDA will get done this year.

Carney’s characterization of the executive order as hypothetical is riling at least one LGBT advocate, Freedom to Work’s Tico Almeida, who continues to say the directive is anything but hypothetical.

“There was nothing hypothetical about President Obama’s campaign promise to the LGBT community that he would take executive action to combat workplace discrimination at federal contractors,” Almeida told the Blade. “We’ll keep pushing until these workplace protections become a reality. It’s long past time to sign.”

It’s not the first time in recent memory the White House referred to the order as hypothetical. Just last week, he referred to the order as “hypothetical” in response to questioning from the Blade that ended testily.

After the conclusion of the briefing on Thursday, the Washington Blade shouted out to Carney: If the executive order were under consideration would you say so publicly? The White House spokesperson gave no response.

Evidence exists the White House is internally engaged in a process that would likely lead to President Obama signing the executive order. The Washington Blade has identified six hints the order is forthcoming despite the lack of updates in the White House briefing room.

1. Podesta’s comments the executive order is ‘under consideration’

The stongest evidence is Podesta — a known proponent of U.S. presidents taking executive action from his previous work heading the Center for American Progress  — unequivocally saying just last week the LGBT executive order is “under consideration” when asked about it by Bloomberg News.

“Well, what he said in the State of the Union was he was going to require federal contractors to pay a minimum wage of $10.10,” Podesta said. “The order that you’re talking about is under consideration at the White House. We’re looking at that.”

Asked by Bloomberg what Obama is likely to do, Podesta said, “Well, you know, I’m not going to prejudge that.” Podesta said there’s no good case for workplace discrimination.

2. DNC Treasurer e-mail saying ‘process’ holding up directive

Along those lines is an e-mail from Andy Tobias, treasurer of the Democratic National Committee, to LGBT donors on an off-the-record listserv indicating everyone in the administration is in favor of the executive order and the only thing holding it up is a “process.” The email, dated May 30, 2013, was leaked to the Washington Blade last year.

“I have spoken to people in an attempt to understand better myself what the delay is — and to lobby for its getting done,” Tobias wrote. “Those people have left me satisfied that our frustration is heard, that the hold-up is not staffers who oppose our rights but a process that is broader than just this one very important and long delayed agenda item.”

Tobias, who’s gay, indicates later in the email he’s convinced the order will happen at some point, noting other LGBT achievements and saying, “But they got done and this will get done too.“

3. White House continues to ‘study’ issue

In April 2012, when Senior Adviser to the President Valerie Jarrett met with LGBT advocates and told them the executive order wouldn’t happen at this time, one media report suggested forward movement was still happening.

ThinkProgress published a piece quoting Winnie Stachelberg, vice president of external relations at the Center for American Progress, saying instead of issuing the order the White House Council of Economic Advisers “will launch a study to better understand workplace discrimination.”

When asked about that quote by the Washington Blade close to the one-year anniversary of that meeting, White House spokesperson Shin Inouye said, “We continue to study the issue.” Sources familiar with the meeting said Jarrett didn’t say CEA would conduct the study, but noted there are multiple approaches and gave CEA as an example.

The White House has since declined to give more detail on the nature of the study — such as its purpose or whether it’s being done as a formal commission or an informal examination — nor say when it’ll be complete.

4. Obama’s 2008 campaign promise

LGBT advocates — including at Freedom to Work and the Human Rights Campaign — continue to say President Obama promised to sign the executive order when competing against Hillary Clinton for the Democratic nomination for president.

Their evidence it’s a campaign promise: an apparent 2008 questionnaire from the GLBT Houston Political Caucus that emerged in 2012 during Obama’s re-election campaign. Although it says nothing explicit about an executive order, Obama was asked if he supports a formal written policy against LGBT discrimination for federal contractors. The response was simply “yes.”

The White House has dodged when asked to comment on whether the president believes the order is a campaign promise. Noel Freeman, current president of the caucus, told the Blade he’s unable to verify the authenticity of the questionnaire.

5. Labor, Justice departments OK exec order: sources

Back when the idea of an executive order was gaining ground prior to the 2012 election, sources close to the administration told the Blade the Labor and Justice departments had green-lighted the directive, saying it could be implemented if the president signed it.

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder is slated to give the keynote address at the Human Rights Campaign’s gala in New York City on Saturday. The content of his speech is thus far under wraps, but given the Justice Department’s work on this issue, it’s not outside the realm of possibility that he’ll make an announcement regarding the executive order.

6. Obama saying he’ll use his pen if Congress fails to act

The last piece of evidence suggesting an order may be forthcoming: President Onama’s declaration during the State of the Union address that he’ll take executive action if Congress refuses to act on his agenda.

“America does not stand still — and neither will I,” Obama said. “So wherever and whenever I can take steps without legislation to expand opportunity for more American families, that’s what I’m going to do.”

Obama has already acted on this threat by pledging to sign an executive order requiring federal contractors to pay employees a minimum wage of $10.10 an hour.

Given the media attention on the LGBT executive order, it stands to reason that issuing the order if Congress doesn’t move forward with ENDA has crossed Obama’s mind.

07
Feb
2014

No updates from Carney on ENDA directive, despite pressure

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

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney had no updates on an ENDA executive order. (Washington Blade file photo by Damien Salas)

Despite a letter this week signed by nearly 200 congressional Democrats calling on President Obama to take administrative action on behalf of LGBT workers, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney had no updates Wednesday on a potential executive order barring anti-LGBT discrimination among federal contractors.

Under questioning from the Washington Blade, Carney reiterated the position he’s stated numerous times that Obama is focused on passing the Employment Non-Discrimination Act through Congress as a means to protect LGBT workers.

“The fact is that legislation, which has moved in the Senate, if it were to be passed by the full Congress and signed into law would have the greatest benefit when it comes to ensuring the rights of LGBT individuals,” Carney said.

A partial transcript follows:

Washington Blade: Thanks, Jay. The president yesterday received a letter from nearly 200 members of Congress — right up to House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer — calling on him to “immediately act” by signing non-discrimination executive order for LGBT workers. You said before this issue is best left to Congress, but if this many lawmakers are lobbing back to the president, has he misjudged the situation?

Jay Carney: Chris, we continue to support ENDA, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, and I don’t have any update for you on possible executive orders. The fact is that legislation, which has moved in the Senate, if it were to be passed by the full Congress and signed into law would have the greatest benefit when it comes to ensuring the rights of LGBT individuals. On the issue of — that you ask me about regularly — of an executive order proposed, or speculated about, I just don’t have any updates.

Blade: But what makes you think that legislation should be the only course of action if lawmakers in Congress are saying that the president should issue an executive order as they pursue legislation?

Carney: Again, Chris, I just don’t have any new information to provide to you about our views on this, which we have discussed many times. There is no question, I think, in anyone’s mind that the passage of legislation, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, would provide those protections broadly in a way the EO would not.

And as I’ve said before, opposition to that legislation is contrary to the tide of history and those lawmakers who oppose this will find, in the not too distant future, that they made a grave mistake and that they will regret it.

Blade: One last very important question on this. The letter takes note that “time is of the essence” because after an executive order is signed, full implementation will require a process that last many months, if not longer. Do you deny there’s a limited time for the president to exercise this option before time’s up at the end of his administration?

Carney: Chris, I’m not even sure there’s a question there, but I’ll point you to my previous answer.

19
Mar
2014