White House Press Secretary Jay Carney wouldn’t say on Wednesday why President Obama won’t take administrative action against workplace discrimination at the same time as he pursues a legislative solution to address the issue — prompting a tongue-lashing from one LGBT advocate who said he’ll tweet at the spokesperson additional reading material.
Under questioning from the Washington Blade, Carney insisted he’s previously explained why Obama can’t signed an executive order prohibiting LGBT workplace discrimination among federal contractors while calling for passage of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act. Without enumerating that explanation, Carney shifted to talking about the bill.
“I think it’s a fair question, but I have answered it,” Carney said. “And one thing I noted recently is that we saw some progress on the legislation, ENDA, in Congress as it was passed out of committee. And the president supports that and welcomes it, and will continue to work with Congress to move forward with that.”
When the Blade pointed out that LGBT discrimination continues to occur — just this month, two transgender people, one who worked for a federal contractor, won damages for discrimination they faced on the job by suing under Title VII — Carney dismissed the conclusion that administrative action is necessary.
“The president opposes discrimination, as you know,” Carney said. “And the president is pursuing a path that he thinks has the best chance of success, which is trying to get Congress to pass ENDA, the legislative action that he supports.”
In additional to signing an executive order, another method of administrative action to institute workplace non-discrimination protections being discussed by LGBT advocates is enforcing Executive Order 11246, which prohibits gender discrimination among federal contractors, in a way that would protect transgender workers as well.
That action would bring enforcement of that executive order into alignment with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s ruling last year that transgender people are protected under workplace non-discrimination law prohibiting gender discrimination.
It’s unclear whether the Labor Department is enforcing the existing executive order in this way. Buzzfeed reported earlier this month that the White House “forbade” the department from doing so.
Asked about this report, Carney said he no knowledge of it and maintained the administration’s position on the issue is clear.
“I’m not aware of that report,” Carney said. “I think our position is clear. I don’t have any updates on it for you. We support the legislation that has moved forward, importantly, in one house of Congress and we’ll continue to make that support known.”
The White House news briefing took place immediately after Obama met with the House and Senate Democratic caucuses on Capitol Hill. Asked whether Obama brought up moving forward with ENDA at those meetings, Carney said he doesn’t have complete knowledge of what was said.
“I wasn’t in the meetings; I don’t have the full readout,” Carney said. “But the president’s position on this issue is well known. It is one he expresses frequently in his conversations with lawmakers of both parties. And we will continue to push for action on that legislation.”
Tico Almeida, president of Freedom to Work, said Carney is feigning ignorance over matters of LGBT workplace discrimination in attempt to dodge questions.
“I don’t think Jay Carney is as ignorant as he pretends to be whenever he wants to avoid tough questioning from the Washington Blade and other reporters who rightfully ask about the President’s five-year delay on his written campaign promise to LGBT Americans,” Carney said. “Mr. Carney is being intentionally obtuse and falsely claiming he’s answered questions that he has in fact skillfully ducked for years.”
Almeida said his organization will deliver to Carney via Twitter “a summer reading list” including the story of President Franklin Roosevelt issuing an executive order prohibiting discrimination on the basis of race among defense contractors as well as the stories of black leaders like Bayard Rustin and A. Phillip Randolph who urged him to take action.
“If Carney reads that American history during his August vacation, maybe he will regain some sense of shame and stop avoiding important questions about how to give LGBT Americans a fair shot at the American Dream,” Almeida said.
Additionally, Almeida took Carney to task for not answering the question about whether the White House forbade the Labor Department from enforcing the existing executive order to protect transgender workers.
“Numerous federal government employees and national leaders have told us that the White House has blocked what the Labor Department wanted to do last year,” Almeida said. “This issue is going to get even more embarrassing for Labor Secretary Tom Perez as time passes, and I hope he will use his considerable intellect and passion to re-start the debate with the White House senior staff who have been dragging their feet on our pathway toward LGBT workplace opportunity.”
A transcript of the exchange between the Washington Blade and Carney follows:
Washington Blade: Thanks, Jay. I want to talk about the issue of LGBT workplace discrimination once more. I know when I’ve asked you questions about the White House issuing an executive order to address this issue before, you said that the administration prefers a legislative push of the issue. But can you explain to me why you think they’re mutually exclusive? Can’t the President sign an executive order and then pursue a legislative solution at the same time?
Jay Carney: You know, Chris, I think it’s a fair question, but I have answered it. And one thing I noted recently is that we saw some progress on the legislation, ENDA, in Congress as it was passed out of committee. And the President supports that and welcomes it, and will continue to work with Congress to move forward with that. He continues to think that’s the best approach in addressing these issues.
Blade: Even as this legislative process is underway, discrimination is still happening. In this past month, two transgender victims of discrimination won damages for discrimination based on a job. One was a federal contractor. Doesn’t this continued discrimination demonstrate the need for immediate action from the administration?
Carney: Well, the President opposes discrimination, as you know. And the President is pursuing a path that he thinks has the best chance of success, which is trying to get Congress to pass ENDA, the legislative action that he supports.
Blade: Another idea that’s being talked about is the Labor Department enforcing the existing executive order protecting gender discrimination in a way that also protects transgender workers. There was a report in Buzzfeed earlier this month saying the White House forbade the Labor Department from enforcing that existing executive order in this way. Are you aware of this issue and do you deny –
Carney: I’m not aware of that report. I think our position is clear. I don’t have any updates on it for you. We support the legislation that has moved forward, importantly, in one house of Congress and we’ll continue to make that support known.
Blade: One last question, I swear.
Carney: He should get a seat up in the front row, don’t you think? (Laughter.)
Blade: Did the President, in the meeting with the Senate Democratic caucus, did he encourage lawmakers to move forward on this with senators today?
Carney: I wasn’t in the meetings; I don’t have the full readout. But the President’s position on this issue is well known. It is one he expresses frequently in his conversations with lawmakers of both parties. And we will continue to push for action on that legislation.