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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

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

Carney on Michael Sam, Russia, DOJ announcement

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

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney addressed Michael Sam, Russia and Eric Holder’s announcement on Monday. (Washington Blade file photo by Damien Salas).

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney on Monday responded to the multiple LGBT news stories that broke over the weekend, including Missouri defensive lineman Michael Sam’s decision to come out as gay.

In addition to inquiries about Sam, Carney over the course of his regular briefing fielded questions on Russia’s handling of the Olympics and U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder’s announcement extending rights to married same-sex couples.

In the aftermath of Sam’s decision to come out as gay and potentially be the National Football League’s first out player, the Associated Press’ Julie Pace asked if the president had any response.

Carney said he had nothing to provide directly from Obama other than to say his views are in line with the support that first lady Michelle Obama and Vice President Joseph Biden expressed on Twitter.

“I have nothing specifically from the president at this time except to say that he shares the sentiments expressed by the first lady and the vice president and so many others in marveling at his courage, and congratulating him on the decisions he’s made, with the support he’s had from his team, and wishing him well in the future, including in professional football,” Carney said.

Asked to comment on the talk that coming out would impair Sam’s chances of finding a team, Carney said any player should be judged on his performance.

“Without having this be a reflection of the conversation with the president, I can tell you that in general that it is his view it should not have an effect,” Carney said. “Any athlete’s abilities should be measured by what — in a traditional way in terms of how he or she performs in the sport, and on the field in this case. And in this case, his performance has been exceptional.”

Following Sam’s announcement that he is gay, he fell 70 slots on CBS’ draft prospect board overnight. He’s now listed at 110, although CBS had him at 160 the next morning.

When the Washington Blade noted during the briefing that President Obama called NBA player Jason Collins on the phone last year after he came out, but apparently didn’t do the same for Sam, Carney replied, “I just don’t have any updates for you on the president.”

Asked by the Blade why Obama would reach out to Collins when he came out, but not Sam, Carney would neither confirm nor deny a phone call will take place.

“I don’t have anything on the president’s schedule right now,” Carney said.

With regard to Russian LGBT protests during the Olympics, Carney said in response to a Blade question the administration has already expressed its views on the crackdown against those in Russia.

“I think broadly speaking in terms of the matter of LGBT rights in Russia, the president has been very clear,” Carney said. “I think he was clear in his interview with Bob Costas at NBC on the evening of the opening ceremonies. So, we strongly express our views when it comes to any crackdown on those who are expressing their opinions peacefully, but I don’t have anything specific with regards to the games themselves on these matters, and our views on that matter haven’t changed.”

According to a tally in the New York Times, at least 61 individuals on the first day of the Olympics were arrested nationwide in Russia for protesting. At least 10 were arrested for demonstrating in favor of LGBT rights and say they were subjected to harsh treatment by police, including threats of sexual assault.

On Thursday, President Obama said in an interview with NBC News “there is no doubt” he included openly gay people as part of the U.S. delegation to the Olympics to demonstrate the United States doesn’t abide by discrimination, including on the basis of sexual orientation.

Also coming up during the briefing was Holder’s announcement that the Justice Department would extend additional rights to married same-sex couples, such as the ability to file jointly for bankruptcy and refuse to testify against a spouse in the wake of the Supreme Court ruling against the Defense of Marriage Act.

Calling the change a “substantive policy decision,” Fox News’ Ed Henry noted that Holder pledged the Justice Department would extend benefits to married same-sex couples to the furthest extent possible across the country, even in non-marriage equality states, and asked for the president’s views.

“I would refer you to the Department of Justice for specifics of that,” Carney replied.

But maintaining the announcement was “a pretty important policy announcement from the administration” Henry asked how important this policy decision was to the president.

“That American citizens enjoy equal rights?” Carney replied. “Pretty important. Profoundly so.”

Arguably as evidenced by the question from Fox News, the announcement from Holder received criticism from conservative groups and significant attention from mainstream media outlets, some of which referred to the change as “sweeping.”

Asked by the Blade if the administration was surprised by the media reaction, Carney refused to characterize the response.

“I don’t have a characterization to make about the coverage or the reaction except to say the president believes every American ought to be afforded equal rights, and he certainly supports that instance of his view, or actions taken that reflect his view in this case,” Carney said.

10
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

Perez says ENDA executive order under consideration

Labor Thomas Perez said the administration continues to "contemplate" the issue of an ENDA executive order (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key).

Labor Thomas Perez said the administration continues to “contemplate” the issue of an ENDA executive order. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key).

Labor Secretary Thomas Perez said Wednesday the issue of an executive order prohibiting anti-LGBT discrimination among federal contractors is something ”we continue to contemplate and work on” as he declined to comment on whether his department could implement the order.

Under questioning by the Washington Blade, Perez said during a surprise appearance at the regular White House news briefing that he’s aware of the long-sought directive to protect workers on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.

“I can’t get into what ifs,” Perez said. “I’m certainly aware of the executive order that was proposed that you’re talking about, and the president takes a back seat to no one in his commitment for equal access to opportunity for people regardless of race, religious, sexual orientation or gender identity. And it’s an issue that we continue to contemplate and work on.”

Sources close to the administration have already told the Washington Blade the Labor Department, as well as the Justice Department, have already green-lighted the executive order for the White House.

Also during the briefing, Perez was asked by the Blade whether the Labor Department would apply Executive Order 11246 — the existing directive that prohibits gender discrimination among federal contractors — to transgender workers in the wake of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s decision two years ago in Macy v. Holder.

“That issue is under review in the aftermath of the Macy decision,” Perez said. “I’ve asked my staff to expedite that review so that we can bring that issue to a conclusion at the Department of Labor.”

Asked when the process of review would come to an end, Perez said, “I’m hoping it will to come to an end as soon as possible.”

As Buzzfeed notes, his comments indicate the Labor Department isn’t currently implementing the existing executive order to protect transgender workers in the same way that Title VII is enforced — even though that law governs the enforcement of the executive order.

Ever since the decision two years ago in Macy v. Holder, which interpreted Title VII of the Civil Rights Act to protect transgender workers from discrimination, the Labor Department previously hasn’t responded to requests for comment on whether it will implement Executive Order 11246 to protect transgender workers.

Buzzfeed published a series of reports saying the Labor Department has refused to comment on whether it would extend the protections via executive order. Most recently, a Buzzfeed reporter was blocked from accessing a news conference with Perez on Monday reportedly because officials didn’t believe he would ask questions relevant to the veterans event.

With regard to a new executive order for both sexual orientation and gender identity, Perez’s remarks that the administration continues to “contemplate” the issue is consistent with White House counselor John Podesta’s remarks that the directive is “under consideration” as well as other hints the order is coming.

But when Reuters’ Jeff Mason followed up during the same briefing on Perez’ “contemplate” comments, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney attempted to tamp them down and reiterated support for legislation known as the Employment Non-Discrimination Act. However, Carney spoke generally about discussions taking place.

“I think what I can say is what I’ve said in the past is that I don’t have updates for you on obviously the discussion in Washington and beyond about that kind of executive action,” Carney said. “What our position is and has been is that we strongly support the Employment Non-Discrimination Act. We note the progress made in the Senate, there’s been movement in the Senate, against some of the conventional wisdom, we’ve seen movement on this.”

Carney concluded, “I just don’t have any update on the discussion around other hypothetical EOs, and I think that’s what Secretary Perez has indicated.”

Asked by Reuters for clarification about whether the media should read any shift from the administration in Perez’s remarks, Carney spoke broadly about “opportunities” under examination.

“I think broadly speaking, the administration looks at all opportunities to advance an agenda that expands opportunity that levels the playing field that sustains the equal opportunity for all that is part of the president’s vision,” Carney said. “That’s a broad matter. On specific, would the president do this executive action or that executive action? That list could be endless, and I don’t have any update for you that kind of proposition.”

Workplace protections issues weren’t the only LGBT matter that came up during the briefing. CBS News’ Major Garrett asked for an update from the White House on Missouri defensive lineman Michael Sam, who recently came out as gay, seeking placement on a team in the NFL.

Carney said since the last White House briefing he talked to President Obama about the development, but didn’t convey whether Obama called Sam as he did with NBA player Jason Collins.

“I don’t have any details on the president’s conversations or phone calls,” Carney said. “I can tell you that I have spoken about this with him and he, like the first lady, like so many others, admires Michael Sam’s courage and believes that the action he’s taken is an important step and looks forward to seeing him playing in the NFL.”

A transcript of the exchanges on workplace issues follow:

Washington Blade: Speaking of executive orders, there’s been a lot of discussion recently about a potential executive order that would bar federal contractors from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. If the President were to sign such an executive order, could the Labor Department implement it?

Secretary Tom Perez: Well, I can’t get into what-ifs. I’m certainly aware of the executive order that was proposed that you’re talking about. And the President takes a backseat to no one in his commitment for equal access to opportunity for people regardless of race, religion, sexual orientation or gender identity. And it’s an issue that we continue to contemplate and work on.

Blade: On a related note, there’s also been talk about implementing existing order — Executive Order 11246, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of gender, and apply that to transgender workers to prohibit discrimination against them in the wake of Macy v. Holder. Will the Labor Department take that step?

Perez: That issue is under review in the aftermath of the Macy decision. And I’ve asked my staff to expedite that review so that we can bring that issue to conclusion at the Department of Labor.

Washington Blade: When will the review come to an end?

Perez: I’m hoping it will come to an end as soon as possible.

Reuters: Jay, two questions. One, I’d like to follow up on something that Secretary Perez said in response to Chris’s question. Is the administration contemplating executive action on LGBT workplace non-discrimination? That was the word that he used.

Jay Carney: Well, I think what I can say to that is what I’ve said in the past, is that I don’t have any updates for you on obviously the discussion in Washington and beyond about that kind of executive action. What our position is and has been is that we strongly support the Employment Non-Discrimination Act. We note the progress made in the Senate, the fact that there’s been movement in the Senate on this, and I think against some of the conventional wisdom we’ve seen movement on this.

On the broader range of issues around LGBT rights, we’ve seen dramatic progress, and we’re going to keep pressing Congress to catch up with the country on these issues. Turning the Employment Non-Discrimination Act into law would be a huge step forward by Congress, and the President looks forward to that happening. But I just don’t have any update on the discussion around other hypothetical EOs, and I think that’s what Secretary Perez was indicating.

Reuters: It wasn’t a hypothetical, so I just wanted to clarify, should we read into that any sort of a shift in the position of maybe going away from just a congressional push back to the possibility of an executive order?

Jay Carney: I think broadly speaking, the administration looks at all opportunities to advance an agenda that expands opportunity, that levels the playing field, that sustains equal opportunity for all that is part of the President’s vision. That’s as a broad matter. On specific — would the President do this executive action or that executive action, I mean, that list could be endless, and I don’t have any update for you on that kind of proposition.

What I can tell you is that it is our policy position that the House ought to and the Congress ought to send the Employment Non-Discrimination Act to the President’s desk so he can sign it into law.

12
Feb
2014

At last, signs of progress in Michigan

Chris Johnson, gay news, Washington Blade, Michigan

Washington Blade political reporter Chris Johnson. (Washington Blade photo by Damien Salas)

It was finally my turn: After years of covering LGBT politics at the Washington Blade and the advancement of marriage equality across the nation, my home state of Michigan became the latest place (albeit briefly) to grant same-sex couples the right to marry.

U.S. District Judge Bernard Friedman’s ruling striking down Michigan’s 2004 ban on same-sex marriage last week is on hold as the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals considers the case, but the ruling marks the first time I’m aware of that gay people in Michigan, which doesn’t have a single major pro-LGBT law, were told they’re equal to their fellow Michiganders.

Without a doubt, I was beaming with pride for Michigan, where I was born and raised in Lansing and attended college at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. My home state became the latest ember the torch of marriage equality lit up in anticipation of a nationwide U.S. Supreme Court ruling next year. The ruling was a signal that when I return to the place where I grew up to see my parents and friends, I should expect to bring with me equal protection under the law for my (eventual) family.

That view is in line with a majority of Michigan residents. According to a poll last year from the Michigan firm Epic MRA, 55 percent of Michigan voters are behind same-sex marriage, and that number inches up to 57 percent when respondents were told a change in law wouldn’t mean religious organizations would have to perform same-sex wedding ceremonies.

But my excitement is tempered because Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder and Attorney General Bill Schuette are appealing the decision and ensured no gay couple can marry in the state as the litigation moves forward by obtaining a stay from the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals.

In an op-ed for the Detroit Free Press, Schuette writes that it’s “fundamentally wrong” to treat people differently based on the color of skin, gender, race or ethnicity, but apparently has a different view on sexual orientation.

“The notion that marriage would be anything else has only emerged in the last few decades,” Schuette writes. “It is not irrational for voters to support the belief that a mom and a dad are not interchangeable.”

It’s the latest in a string of anti-gay actions from an administration that bills itself as moderate in nature. I suppose we must give Snyder some credit for distancing himself from the anti-gay views spewing from Republican National Committee member Dave Agema, but the governor also signed into law a bill stripping Michigan public employees of same-sex partner benefits — an action that was eventually overturned by the courts.

That hostility toward gay people, unfortunately, is much of the Michigan I remember growing up — at least in school. Just recently, I saw a study on the bullying of youth that found body type and sexual orientation are two of the most common reasons why kids are harassed at school. I had both going for me.

As a teen short of stature growing up in a blue-collar area who, for some reason, was not into girls like my classmates, I would often cry in my dad’s car before being dropped off for middle school in the morning and not want to go. Thankfully, I was never physically assaulted, but my fellow students intimidated me, excluded me from activities and spewed vitriolic comments about me (sometimes cloaked in religious proselytization) that made me and my education suffer.

But, as I and so many others who had a similar experience found, it gets better. That kid grew up to move to D.C. and join the White House press corps as political reporter for the Washington Blade. Someone who’d want to psychoanalyze me might see a link between my troubled youth and why I question sources so fiercely when the administration isn’t doing enough on LGBT rights.

I look forward to the day when the lawsuit is settled and marriage equality is the law in my home state. Until then, my feelings about the situation are as conflicted as I feel about Michigan, which, even though I had troubled experience growing up, is the place in many ways I consider still home.

27
Mar
2014

White House has no comment on Utah same-sex marriages

Jay Carney, White House, gay news, Washington Blade

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney has no comment on Utah same-sex marriage litigation (Washington Blade photo by Damien Salas).

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said Tuesday he has no comment on the stay placed by the Supreme Court on same-sex marriages in Utah, but reiterated President Obama’s support for marriage equality.

Under questioning from the Washington Blade, Carney said the White House has nothing to say about Kitchen v. Herbert, the litigation that brought same-sex marriage to Utah before the Supreme Court halted the weddings Monday as the lawsuit continues through the courts.

“We have no comment on the specifics of this case because the United States government is not a party to this litigation, but speaking broadly, as you know, the president’s views on marriage equality are well-established,” Carney said.

Carney went into detail about the president’s support for marriage rights for gay couples — first made public by the president in 2012 during an interview with Good Morning America’s Robin Roberts — as well as Obama’s opposition to taking those rights away.

“He believes that loving, committed gay and lesbian couples that want to get married and have access to the full benefits, protections and obligations that marriage brings should be able to do so,” Carney said. “He has also long opposed divisive and discriminatory efforts to deny rights and benefits to same-sex couples, and he believes strongly that protections shouldn’t be taken away from gay and lesbian couples who want to take care of their families.”

Carney said Obama opposes efforts to take rights away from gay couples amid questions over whether couples who already married in Utah will be recognized as legally married by Utah and the federal government. On Tuesday, Dena Iveerson, a Justice Department spokesperson, said, “We are reviewing the court’s decision.”

According to the Salt Lake Tribune, at least 1,324 same-sex marriages were performed in Utah after the district court ruled in favor of marriage equality on Dec. 20, but before the Supreme Court issued its stay.

Asked whether there are any conversations happening the White House and the Justice Department about whether the federal government will consider those marriages valid, Carney referred all inquiries to the department.

“I would refer you to the Department of Justice,” Carney said. “Again, this is matter that’s in litigation now, we’re not a party to the litigation. The views of the president are well known, and when it comes to questions like that, I think, the Justice Department is the best place to ask them.”

07
Jan
2014

White House mum on marriage going to Supreme Court

Jay Carney, White House, gay news, Washington Blade

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney has no comment on marriage coming to the Supreme Court (Washington Blade file photo by Damien Salas).

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney side-stepped a question Friday on whether President Obama is eager to see the U.S. Supreme Court take up the issue of marriage equality, reflecting instead on the growth on public support of same-sex marriage.

In response to a question from the Washington Blade, Carney refused to comment on the potential for a nationwide ruling from the Supreme Court on marriage equality in the wake of federal court decision against Virginia’s ban on same-sex marriage.

“Well, I’m not going to speak hypothetically about cases the Supreme Court may or may not take,” Carney said. “What I can tell you is the president supports, as he made clear, making available to LGBT Americans the rights that we all should enjoy, and his views on same-sex marriage were, I think, very powerfully expressed.”

Referencing Obama’s own evolution on his path to announcing his support for marriage equality, Carney said the president takes pride in the growing support for same-sex marriage in recent years.

“He feels very gratified by the enormous progress that’s been made on this issue, and the change in perspectives that I think we’ve seen ‘evolve’ across the country in rather a remarkable amount of time — a remarkably short amount of time — which is not to say that it shouldn’t have happened earlier, but that it is, given the way these kinds of struggles for equal rights play out, notable and commendable that Americans across the country have embraced this issue as strongly as the have,” Carney said.

Carney had no comment when asked whether he anticipates that the Obama administration would participate in any of the pending lawsuits seeking marriage equality as it did with litigation that overturned Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act and California’s Proposition 8.

“I wouldn’t be the right person to guess,” Carney said. “You might look for speculation at the Justice Department.”

The Justice Department didn’t immediately respond to the Washington Blade’s request to comment. The Obama administration participated in litigation against DOMA as a party to the lawsuit and in the case against Prop 8 as a friend of the court.

A number of LGBT advocates have weighed in on the possibility of the Obama administration participating in the marriage cases. Freedom to Marry President Evan Wolfson said the administration “should absolutely be part” of all the marriage cases, while legal duo Ted Olson and David Boies as well as Human Rights Campaign Chad Griffin said they’d welcome Obama’s participation.

A brief transcript of the exchange follows:

Washington Blade: A federal court yesterday ruled against Virginia’s ban on same-sex marriage. At least four circuit courts will be considering the issue this spring, which likely means the Supreme Court will be taking up the issue and making a decision next year. Is the president eager for the Supreme Court to make an nationwide decision on this over the course of his presidency?

Jay Carney: Well, I’m not going to speak hypothetically about cases the Supreme Court may or may not take. What I can tell you is the president supports, as he made clear, making available to LGBT Americans the rights that we all should enjoy, and his views on same-sex marriage were, I think, very powerfully expressed. And he feels very gratified by the enormous progress that’s been made on this issue, and the change in perspectives that I think we’ve seen “evolve” across the country in rather a remarkable amount of time — a remarkably short amount of time — which is not to say that it shouldn’t have happened earlier, but that it is, given the way these kinds of struggles for equal rights play out, notable and commendable that Americans across the country have embraced this issue as strongly as the have.

Blade: But do you anticipate the administration will participate in the cases as much as it did in the DOMA and the Prop 8 cases?

Carney: I wouldn’t be the right person to guess. You might look for speculation at the Justice Department.

14
Feb
2014

White House not backing down in new ENDA flap

Josh Earnest, White House, Barack Obama Administration, press, gay news, Washington Blade, back down

White House Principal Deputy Press Secretary Josh Earnest wouldn’t back down from comments that an executive order would be redundant with an executive order in place. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

The White House wouldn’t back down Friday from controversial comments that an executive order protecting LGBT federal workers would be “redundant” if the Employment Non-Discrimination Act is signed into law — despite criticism from LGBT rights supporters.

In response to a question from the Washington Blade, White House Principal Deputy Press Secretary Josh Earnest declined to say whether the White House now sees value in having both the executive order and ENDA in place, following the criticism. Instead, he talked about President Obama’s support for the legislation.

“The fact of the matter is our position on legislation that would codify into the law that individuals can’t be discriminated against at work just because of who they love — we strongly support that legislation,” Earnest said. “We urge Congress to pass that legislation, and that is what our position is.”

In response to a follow-up question about whether the White House believes Executive Order 11246, which prohibits federal contractors from discriminating on the basis of race, color, religion, gender or national origin, is also redundant under existing civil rights law, Earnest said he didn’t know.

“I’m not familiar with that specific executive order,” Earnest said. “We can certainly look into it for you. But in terms of the thrust of your question, the president’s unwavering support for ENDA legislation has not changed.”

Earnest’s boss Jay Carney found himself in hot water Thursday when, under questioning from the Blade, he said that an executive order would be redundant under ENDA. Carney prefaced his response by saying he isn’t a lawyer and hasn’t read every word of ENDA.

LGBT rights supporters — ranging from the Human Rights Campaign, the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force and Freedom to Work — pointed out that other categories of workers are protected under both Executive Order 11246 and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the law prohibiting job discrimination on the basis race, color, religion, sex and national origin and LGBT workers deserve similar protections.

Additionally. the enforcement mechanisms would be different because ENDA would be enforced by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, but the executive order would be enforced by the Labor Department’s Office of Federal Contract Compliance. Although small businesses and religious organizations would be exempt under ENDA, they could face penalties for discriminating against LGBT workers with the executive order in place if they do business with the federal government.

Shin Inouye, a White House spokesperson, provided a response similar to Earnest’s when asked if the White House now believes that an executive order is “redundant” with ENDA in place, saying, “The president continues to urge Congress to pass ENDA so that he can sign it into law.”

In response to Earnest’s latest comments, LGBT advocates reiterated their position that having both an executive order and ENDA on the books is necessary to provide full and equal non-discrimination protections for LGBT workers.

Ian Thompson, legislative representative for the American Civil Liberties Union, took the White House to task for asserting the executive order would be “redundant” with ENDA and for dodging on whether the same is true for Executive Order 11246 and Title VII.

“This should not be so complicated for the White House,” Thompson said. “Both Title VII and EO 11246 have provided workers with vital protections against discrimination for a half century. No one would credibly argue that Title VII has made EO 11246, and the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP) within the Department of Labor, ‘redundant.’ Rather than continuing to punt the ball back to Congress, it is time for President Obama to deliver on a promise he made when he was running for office.”

04
Apr
2014

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