July 12, 2013 | by Chris Johnson
Carney talks Russia Olympics boycott, ENDA
White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said he's unaware of calls to boycott the 2014 Olympics in Russia (Blade file photo by Michael Key).

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said he’s unaware of calls to boycott the 2014 Olympics in Russia. (Blade file photo by Michael Key).

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney on Friday said he’s unaware of calls to boycott the upcoming Olympic Games in Russia over the passage of anti-gay legislation in the country, but maintained the administration encourages countries to respect LGBT rights.

Under questioning from the Washington Blade, Carney said he doesn’t have a specific response from the White House or President Obama to calls by some LGBT advocates to boycott the 2014 Sochi Games.

“I’m not aware of the calls,” Carney said. “I can tell you that the president and this administration makes clear to our allies and partners and nations around the world our belief that LGBT rights need to be respected everywhere, but I don’t have a specific — I haven’t discussed this with him.”

Last month, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed into law a measure that bans the “promotion of homosexuality” to minors. Some LGBT rights advocates — including Nikolai Alekseev of Gay Russia, an LGBT advocacy group — have called for a boycott of the Olympics in response to this legislation and the spate of anti-gay violence in the country.

Carney also said he wasn’t aware of the issue coming up in bilateral talks between Obama and Putin that took place in June. Obama was set to speak with Putin by phone later on Friday to discuss concerns about leaker and former U.S. spy agency contractor Edward Snowden, who’s been in hiding in Russia.

Under further questioning, Carney reiterated Obama prefers passage of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act when asked about an executive order that would bar LGBT workplace discrimination among federal contractors.

Carney reiterated Obama’s preference for legislation to address LGBT workplace discrimination when asked about an email from Democratic National Committee Treasurer Andrew Tobias that was leaked last month to the Blade in which he told LGBT donors a “process” is holding up the executive order.

“I will not argue with you when you say there are obstacles that ENDA faces to becoming law, but the fact is, this was a good week in progress towards passing ENDA and the president strongly supports the efforts undertaken by Senate Democrats and some Senate Republicans to encourage the passage of this legislation, and we’ll continue to work with the Congress to see it done,” Carney said.

But when asked why Tobias would say in an email that a “process” is holding up the executive order, Carney said he had no knowledge of the email.

“I’m not familiar with an email that you said was leaked to you,” Carney said. “I can tell you what I know here in the West Wing of the White House.”

A partial transcript of the exchange follows:

Washington Blade: Thanks, Jay. I have my own question about Russia actually. A big concern among the international LGBT community is about anti-gay legislation and anti-gay violence in that country. There are some calls to boycott the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. At the end of last year, Russia President Vladimir Putin signed a law that bans the “promotion of homosexuality” to minors. Is the president aware of these calls for a boycott and is he open to the idea of withdrawing U.S. participation from the Winter Olympics?

Jay Carney: I’m not aware of the calls. I can tell you that the president and this administration makes clear to our allies and partners and nations around the world our belief that LGBT rights need to be respected everywhere, but I don’t have a specific — I haven’t discussed this with him.

The State Department might have more information, but I don’t have a specific response from him or from the White House on that particular issue, but broadly speaking, we make our concerns about these issues known to countries around the world. And I think this came up in the president’s trip to Africa. We made that clear.

Blade: Can you tell me if it came up in the bilateral talks between President Obama and President Putin?

Carney: Not that I’m aware of. But again, we make our concerns about issues like this known to countries where appropriate.

Blade: I know you’ve answered a lot of questions about the LGBT workplace non-discrimination order, but there’s one more thing I wanted you to address. In an email that was leaked to me last month, the treasurer of the Democratic National Committee Andrew Tobias said that he’s spoken to people within the administration about it, and everyone’s for it, and it will get done, but the hold up is “a process that is broader than just this one very important and long delayed agenda item.” Do you dispute that a process is holding up this executive order?

Carney: I’ve been very clear in the answers to your questions and the questions the other day that our firm belief is that we think that an inclusive Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which would enshrine into law strong, lasting protections against employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity is necessary. And the president and his administration will continue to work to build support for it, and we saw an important step taken this week when ENDA passed out of committee in the Senate with some Republican support.

We’re not there yet, and I will not argue with you when you say there are obstacles that ENDA faces to becoming law, but the fact is, this was a good week in progress towards passing ENDA and the president strongly supports the efforts undertaken by Senate Democrats and some Senate Republicans to encourage the passage of this legislation, and we’ll continue to work with the Congress to see it done.

And the rest of that, I think our position has been well known about ENDA as the best means to pursue lasting and comprehensive protections against employment discrimination against LGBT individuals.

Blade: I understand that but why you do think the DNC treasurer would say a “process” is holding up the executive order?

Carney: I’m not familiar with an email that you said was leaked to you. I can tell you what I know here in the West Wing of the White House.

Blade: One last question on this. There are three Senate Democrats who don’t co-sponsor the Employment Non-Discrimination Act: Bill Nelson, Mary Pryor and Joe Manchin. As we get closer to the floor vote in the Senate on ENDA, do you expect the president will reach out to them to try to get them on board for support?

Carney: I expect that we will try to encourage every member of the Senate to do the right thing and support that legislation.

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

3 Comments
  • For someone with such an important position, he frankly sounds rather ignorant of actual real world issues. Either that or this is all legalezie For "we know all this but we don't really care, please pay no attention to that man behind the curtiain!"

  • I can understand President Obama wanting a legislative fix to LGBT employment discrimination. Executive Orders can always be overturned by another EO, but legislation is usually more durable (especially with the Keystone Kops we have in Congress right now). But the president can sign an EO mandating non-discrimination in workplaces as an interim measure until Congress gets its act together. I just read about two cases of workplace discrimination involving transgender employees, and if nothing else speaks to the need for action, those two cases certainly do. The time for action is now. We need President Obama and all of his allies in Congress to do the right thing and not the politically expedient thing for once.

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