May 22, 2013 | by Chris Johnson
Did Obama ask Leahy to delay gay-inclusive immigration reform?
Jay Carney, White House, gay news, Washington Blade

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

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney wouldn’t deny on Wednesday a media report that the Obama administration asked Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) to hold off on the introduction of amendments to include same-sex couples as part of comprehensive immigration reform.

Under questioning initiated by the Washington Blade on the accuracy of the report, Carney restated that Obama supports a provision to immigration reform along the lines of the Uniting American Families Act, which would allow gay Americans to sponsor their partners for residency in the United States.

“I think the president supports that amendment, and he also made clear that he knows he won’t get everything, necessarily, that he wants in the final comprehensive immigration bill that he hopes the Senate will pass and the House will pass and will arrive on his desk,” Carney said. “But he will push for those things that he believes ought to be in it.”

Carney added if the measure were to come up again — suggesting the possibility of a floor amendment to immigration reform — Obama “would hope” it would have bipartisan support.

When the Blade pointed out that response doesn’t address the issue of whether the White House asked Leahy to hold off on the amendments, Carney said he doesn’t have the content of conversations on immigration reform.

“I think you saw the manner in which it was discussed in the hearing by Senator Leahy, who introduced it, and other members of the committee who discussed it,” Carney said. “We are obviously engaged in conversations with the main players on this issue on a regular basis. And I don’t have the contents of all those conversations.”

When CBS News’ Major Garrett jumped in to ask if Carney would deny the report, Carney replied, “I’m not aware of that conversation.”

“What I can tell you is the president supports the amendment,” Carney said. “The president also believes, as he made clear in Costa Rica, that we need to accept that we may not get everything we want. It doesn’t mean we’re not going to fight for the things that we believe in, and this president will.”

During the Senate Judiciary Committee markup of the bill, numerous Democrats on the panel who are known for supporting LGBT rights — Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) and Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) — said they couldn’t bring themselves to support the amendment out of fear of losing Republican support for the final bill.

Asked by the Blade if there was a reasonable expectation that Obama should have brought these senators on board in time for the vote, Carney deferred to the Senate.

“I think each senator expressed himself or herself and his or her own views, so I would refer you to them,” Carney said. “The president’s views are clear. He believes this amendment should be passed and has made his views clear on that. I can’t speak for other senators.”

Earlier during the briefing under questioning from Reuters’ Jeff Mason, Carney noted Obama’s support for the provisions when asked about possible areas of improvement the president would like see addressed when the bill comes to the Senate floor.

“I think he’s made clear that he supports that and would like to see Congress support that,” Carney said. “He’s also made clear that he doesn’t expect to get everything he wants in this bill. It doesn’t mean he won’t fight for everything he wants, but he understands that compromise means not getting every single thing that you want.”

A partial transcript of the exchange between reporters on Jay Carney on the issue follows:

Washington Blade: I want to go back to immigration reform. Senator Leahy yesterday withheld amendments that would have included gay couples as part of a larger package. Yesterday, the Associated Press reported that the White House had asked him to hold off on those measures. Did the White House, in fact, ask Senator Leahy to revoke those amendments?

Jay Carney: I think you heard the President address this issue — I think it was in an interview in Costa Rica. I think the President supports that amendment, and he also made clear that he knows he won’t get everything, necessarily, that he wants in the final comprehensive immigration bill that he hopes the Senate will pass and the House will pass and will arrive on his desk. But he will push for those things that he believes ought to be in it.

He thinks it’s important that we make sure that everyone who’s engaged in this process understands that they may not get everything they want, but I think he expressed very clearly his strong support for that amendment. He would hope that if it comes up again that there would be strong bipartisan support for it — and we’ll have to see. But his support I think he expressed very clearly.

Blade: It’s clear that the President supports that amendment, but that response doesn’t really get to the issue of whether the White House asked Senator Leahy to withhold the amendments.

Carney: I don’t have — I think you saw the manner in which it was discussed in the hearing by Senator Leahy, who introduced it, and other members of the committee who discussed it. We are obviously engaged in conversations with the main players on this issue on a regular basis. And I don’t have the contents of all those conversations. What I can tell you is that the President supports —

CBS News: But you don’t deny it?

Carney: I’m sorry.

CBS News: You don’t deny the report.

Carney: I’m not aware of that conversation. What I can tell you is the President supports the amendment. The President also believes, as he made clear in Costa Rica, that we need to accept that we may not get everything we want. It doesn’t mean we’re not going to fight for the things that we believe in, and this President will.

Blade: During the markup last night, it was one Democrat after the other — Senator Feinstein, Senator Durbin, Senator Schumer — said they couldn’t bring themselves to support the measure. And these are senators from the President’s own party. Isn’t there a reasonable expectation that the President should have worked to bring them on board in time for that vote in accordance with his vision for immigration reform?

Carney: Well, I think each senator expressed himself or herself and his or her own views, so I would refer you to them. The president’s views are clear. He believes this amendment should be passed and has made his views clear on that. I can’t speak for other senators.

Watch the video here:

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

9 Comments
  • Will the compromises include immigration rights & reforms for latinos, in exchange for NO immigration rights for Ethiopians? or not for French? No, of course that compromise would seem ludicrous! And so is "trading" immigration rights for LGBT people, for not building a higher border fence, or whatever it is they are "trading" us for behind their closed doors. American lives being traded is supposed to be illegal too already, I thought….

  • Our government needs to stop treating us differently… Our government needs to STOP discriminating against us because of our sexual orientation, our gender identification, our loving, our caring for each other… Our government continues to single us all out as inferior and dangerous. So, they need to LEAVE US ALONE! PERIOD!

  • I would rather have all my Senators and Representatives be from the Green Party, anyway… for many MANY reasons (Gitmo? Drones? Patriot Act?). Democrats are not the only game in town. I've stopped voting for them a year ago. Everyone else should also stop voting for them as "our" congress, which they are so obviously NOT (except for presidential election, until metrics even out further).

  • I would rather have all my Senators and Representatives be from the Green Party, anyway… for many MANY reasons (Gitmo? Drones? Patriot Act?). Democrats are not the only game in town. I've stopped voting for them a year ago. Everyone else should also stop voting for them as "our" congress, which they are so obviously NOT (except for presidential election, until metrics even out further).

  • Peter rosenstein

    Chris-good column and you were really good at the press briefing. Clearly Carney had a difficult time with your questions which said something in itself.

  • Obama supports it, he just doesn’t support supporting it.

  • Once again gays were used as pawns…

  • I want to write something for HP about the UAFA fiasco, but what to say? Should I write about The Pope, via Cardinal Dolan, controlling the Senate Judiciary Committee? The Immigration Coalitions that supported us on paper, but let us go w/out a real fight (like they would have mounted for Dreamers, or other groups). The Democrats who made the opposition arguments for them in Committee, rather than forcing the Republicans to say WHY including us would mess this up, and WHO was behind that threat (e.g. Catholics/Evangelicals, i.e., RELIGION). The fact that Schumer and Obama clearly made a deal a year or more ago (before the 2012 election for sure), to leave us out, and then all doubled down to take the hit for the Republicans, but lied to us, stringing us along with false hope. Or what about Senator Tammy Baldwin – our out "proud" lesbian Senator – who was obviously completely complicit in this DNC plan, and SILENT in the media as we were bashed routinely as toxic by Sen. Graham (a reportedly closeted gay man). And what about that? The idea that a gay closeted Senator is a pawn of the Pope? Or just the feeling of pure abandonment as NOT ONE SENATOR fought OUR fight in the public discourse, and the LGBT Congressional Caucus is still no where to be heard or seen, and useless. Or, going deeper, the clear awareness that our own movement – HRC – is controlled by the DNC & Obama, and we have NO independent advocacy machine that anyone in Congress actually fears enough, like they do the Pope, to stand up for us and fight the good fight out in the open. It's all horribly discouraging and sad.

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