May 31, 2011 | by Chris Johnson
Carney: No updates on ENDA executive order, marriage

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney was tight-lipped on Tuesday when reporters pressed him for updates on President Obama’s views on an executive order barring LGBT job bias and same-sex marriage.

During a news conference, Carney said under questioning from the Washington Blade that he was unaware of any talks when asked if internal discussion followed Sen. Tom Harkin’s (D-Iowa) recent endorsement of an executive order protecting LGBT people against workforce discrimination.

“Not that I’m aware of,” Carney said. “I don’t have anything new for you on that.”

Earlier this month, Harkin came out in favor of an executive order that would mandate that the federal government only contract with companies that have policies protecting their LGBT employees from workplace discrimination. As chair of the Senate Health, Education, Labor & Pensions Committee, Harkin is the leading Senate Democrat on labor issues.

Harkin joined Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.), a gay lawmaker and member of the House Committee on Education & the Workforce, and Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), the sponsor of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act in the Senate, who have also expressed support for this measure.

Asked whether the president takes heed when someone when like Harkin calls on the president to take action, Carney said Obama welcomes input from the senator but has no information on the potential executive order. The Iowa senator helped build momentum for Obama’s presidential bid in 2007 by inviting him to the 30th Annual Steak Fry; a major event for potential presidential candidates in the Iowa caucus process.

“I’m sure that the president always wants to hear what Sen. Harkin has to say on a variety of issues, but I don’t have anything for you on that particular one,” Carney said.

An executive order barring government contractors from job discrimination against LGBT people has been seen as an interim alternative to ENDA passage while Republicans are in control of the House and progress on the measure in the lower chamber of Congress is unlikely. The White House hasn’t said one way or the other whether Obama would be open to issuing such a directive.

Similarly, Carney said he had nothing to offer when another reporter asked why Obama has yet to come out in support of same-sex marriage. Mediaite’s Tommy Christopher said during his questioning that a reasonable person would conclude, given the president’s recent statements and actions, that Obama in fact favors marriage equality although he has yet to articulate this belief.

“The president has said in the past what his position is,” Carney replied. “It hasn’t changed. If it changes I’m sure he’ll let you all know.”

Obama has called for legislative repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act, which prohibits federal recognition of same-sex marriage. In February, the president announced that he determined DOMA was unconstitutional and that he would no longer defend the anti-gay statute against litigation in court.

Despite this opposition to DOMA, the president has yet to come out in support of marriage rights for gay couples. Obama has suggested his position could “evolve” on the issue, but he’s yet to make an endorsement for marriage equality.

Pressed by Mediaite on this potential evolution to reach support of same-sex marriage would come to an end, Carney replied, “I have no update on that.”

A partial transcript of the LGBT-related Q&A with Carney and reporters follows:

Mediaite: And my second question, based on his  what he said and his actions, I think a reasonable person can conclude that President Obama believes in the right of gay couples to marry.  So why hasn’t he come out and said that?

Jay Carney: The president has said in the past what his position is. It hasn’t changed. And if it changes, I’m sure he’ll let you all know.

Mediaite: The last time we checked, he said it was evolving.

Carney: And that’s — I have no update for you on that.

Washington Blade: Jay, earlier this month Sen. Tom Harkin endorsed the idea of the president issuing an executive order mandating that the federal government only contract with companies that have non-discrimination policies for their gay and transgender workers. Harkin joins Senator Jeff Merkley and Colorado Congressman Jared Polis who also said they welcome this order from the president. In the wake of these endorsements, is there any consideration at all in the administration to issuing this directive?

Carney: Not that I’m aware of. I don’t have anything new for you on that.

Washington Blade: But does the president take heed when someone like Tom Harkin, who helped the president out early on during his White House bid in 2008, does the president take heed when Tom Harkin calls on the President to issue such an order like that?

Carney: Well, I’m sure that the President always wants to hear what Sen. Harkin has to say on a variety of issues, but I don’t have anything for you on that particular one.

Chris Johnson is Chief Political & White House Reporter for the Washington Blade. Johnson attends the daily White House press briefings and is a member of the White House Correspondents' Association. Follow Chris

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