White House Press Secretary Jay Carney expressed uncertainty on Monday over whether President Obama will lobby members of Congress to pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act during his visit this week to Capitol Hill.
Under questioning from the Washington Blade on ENDA, Carney declined to identify the bill as one of the pieces of legislation that Obama would ask Congress to pass — even though he enumerated other measures the president is seeking earlier in the briefing.
“I think he’ll talk about some of the issues that I laid out, maybe not all of them, and I’m sure there’ll be other topics that he’ll raise,” Carney said. “But I don’t have a specific agenda for him.”
Other legislative items Carney enumerated during the briefing were a balanced deficit reduction measure, comprehensive immigration reform, legislation to reduce gun violence, legislation to enhance the country’s energy independence, a bill to enhance cybersecurity and addressing the issue of Republicans blocking his judicial nominees in the Senate.
Obama is scheduled to visit members of Congress during three separate caucus meetings throughout the week. Carney said Obama will meet with Senate Democrats on Tuesday, House Republicans on Wednesday, Senate Republicans on Thursday and House Republicans also on Thursday. Obama’s meeting with the senators is particularly noteworthy because LGBT groups, such as Freedom to Work, have been pushing for a Senate vote on ENDA.
Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) already committed during a Center for American Progress event to hold a committee a vote on ENDA this year. Following the news, the office of Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.) told the Washington Blade the majority leader looks forward to scheduling a vote on the legislation.
Tico Almeida, president of Freedom to Work, said the White House can bolster those efforts by calling for not only a committee vote on ENDA, but a vote in the Senate.
“It’s long past time to put all 100 Senators on the record on ENDA,” Almeida said. “Now that Sen. Reid’s office has told the Washington Blade that they look forward to working with Senator Harkin and others to schedule a vote on the Senate floor after the bill is reported by the committee, it would be an important time for President Obama to publicly challenge both chambers of Congress to vote on ENDA this year.”
Carney expressed uncertainty over a plan for ENDA immediately after his response to a previous Blade question in which he reiterated that the administration prefers a legislative approach to tackle anti-LGBT workplace discrimination as opposed to administrative action.
Advocates have been calling on Obama to issue an executive order prohibiting federal contractors from engaging in anti-LGBT workplace discrimination. The White House has yet to take action on this directive — even though the administration has taken other executive action on behalf of the LGBT community in recent weeks by starting the process to offer limited partner benefits for gay service members and filing a legal brief in the lawsuit against California’s Proposition 8.
Asked why the administration would undertake these other two actions, but not issue the executive order, Carney drew a distinction.
“I think filing a brief is an entirely different piece of business,” Carney said. “But, as you know, the president has long supported an inclusive Employment Non-Discrimination Act and his administration will continue to work to build support for it. We welcome Chairman Harkin’s announcement that he will hold a vote on ENDA this year. I have no updates for you on an executive order.”
Almeida said “it’s odd” that the White House “continually downplays” the administration’s record of strong executive actions on behalf of LGBT people when Congress doesn’t act.
“For example, the Department of Housing and Urban Development did not wait for Congress to pass an LGBT housing bill, and instead took executive action to create strong LGBT protections to ban discrimination in mortgage lending,” Almeida added. “Signing the LGBT workplace executive order is the next logical step, and based on the president’s impressive record, Freedom to Work remains optimistic that he will fulfill this campaign promise soon.”
Also on Monday, the Human Rights Campaign issued an action alert to its members calling on Obama to “spread workplace equality to millions” by issuing the executive order. The alert is written by Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.).
“Putting an end to any discrimination among federal contractors based on sexual orientation or gender identity is the next, natural step for the most pro-equality president in history,” Merkley writes.
Merkley has sponsored ENDA in the Senate and gay Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.) has said he’d take the lead on the legislation in the House now that gay former Rep. Barney Frank has retired. However, neither lawmaker has yet introduced legislation.
A transcript of the exchange between Carney and the Washington Blade follows:
Washington Blade: Jay, in recent weeks, the administration has taken a lot of executive action on behalf of the LGBT community. Last month, the Pentagon started the process for implementing certain partner benefits for gay troops. And a couple weeks ago, the Justice Department filed a brief in the Prop 8 case. One action that remains outstanding is that executive order for federal contractors prohibiting anti-LGBT workplace discrimination. If you’re going to do those other two executive actions, why not do the executive order as well?
Jay Carney: Well, I mean, I think filing a brief is an entirely different piece of business, Chris. But, as you know, the President has long supported an inclusive Employment Non-Discrimination Act and his administration will continue to work to build support for it. We welcome Chairman Harkin’s announcement that he will hold a vote on ENDA this year. I have no updates for you on an executive order.
Washington Blade: Speaking about the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, when the President goes to Capitol Hill this week to talk to lawmakers this week about his priorities, will he mention the Employment Non-Discrimination Act as one of the things he wants passed?
Carney: I think he’ll talk about some of the issues that I laid out, maybe not all of them, and I’m sure there’ll be other topics that he’ll raise. But I don’t have a specific agenda for him.