White House Press Secretary Jay Carney refused to say on Wednesday if the composition of the U.S. delegation to the Russian Olympics was meant as a response to the anti-LGBT atmosphere in the country.
In response to a question from NBC News’ Chuck Todd about whether the selection — which includes two out lesbians — was meant as a signal on gay rights, Carney maintained the composition reflects the diversity of the country.
“I think that this delegation represents the diversity that is the United States,” Carney said. “Every member of that delegation is extremely accomplished, either in government service, or in civic activism, or, most especially, in sports. So, [President Obama] is very proud of the delegation and the diversity it represents, and he looks forward, as every American does, to the competition and the effort that American athletes will demonstrate when they compete in Sochi.”
On Tuesday, the White House announced the 10-member U.S. delegation to the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. Unlike the games in either 2010 or 2012, the delegation doesn’t include any member of the Obama or Biden family. Instead, the White House named two out lesbians: tennis legend Billie Jean King and ice hockey Olympian Caitlin Cahow.
The selection of the U.S. delegation was of strong interest to the White House press corps during the news briefing and second only in terms of questioning to the upcoming report on the National Security Agency. A total of three new organizations asked questions about the delegation — NBC News, ABC News and Yahoo! News — and NBC News and ABC News asked follow-up inquiries on the delegation’s implication for LGBT rights.
Todd initiated his questioning by asking how Russian Vladimir Putin could see the selection as anything but a snub. In response, Carney dodged and read aloud a White House statement previously provided to the Washington Blade and other media outlets, saying Obama is proud of U.S. athletes, but his schedule doesn’t permit him to attend the Olympics.
Pressed on whether he’d wave off the interpretation of the selection as a signal against Russia’s anti-gay climate, Carney said Obama has already made his opposition to that law clear prior to the announcement of the delegation.
“That’s not a message we would wait to send through this manner,” Carney said. “We have been very clear, the president has been very clear that he finds it offensive — the anti-LGBT legislation in Russia, for example — and we take very clear and strong stands on that issue as well as the curtailment of civil society in Russia, as well as the harassment caused to those who protest corruption in Russia.”
But in a response to another question from Todd on whether the White House wants to draw attention to LGBT issues in Russia with the naming of delegation, Carney reverted back to saying the selection “draws attention to the remarkable diversity of the United States.”
“The president’s proud to have this delegation — both to the opening and to the closing ceremonies — represent our nation and our government at a games that will obviously, as they always do, have the attention of the world,” Carney said.
More questions on the delegation came from ABC News’ Jonathan Karl, who asked Carney if he’s suggesting there wasn’t a message on LGBT issues with the delegation.
“I’m suggesting that in the selection of this delegation, we’re sending the message that the United States is a diverse place, and this delegation represents that diversity, not because of the issues on which we disagree with Russia alone, but because of the remarkable accomplishments of every individual in that delegation,” Carney said.
When Karl pointed out the highest ranking member of the delegation is the assistant to the president and deputy chief of staff for policy, Carney touted the credentials of others in the selection.
“There is a former Cabinet Secretary, homeland security Cabinet secretary, who’s also now in a very big job [at the University of California],” Carney said.
Pressed by Karl if the White House was thinking about Russia’s notorious anti-gay propaganda law when making the selection for the delegation, Carney said the administration has already “made no bones” about its opposition to the law.
“We’ve made very clear, have not pulled any punches in talking about the fact that we expect Russia to conduct Olympics games in Sochi that demonstrate full respect and regard for the participants in those games from all over the world and from all walks of life,” Carney said.
Asked by Karl if the Obama would encourage members of the U.S. delegation to speak out against the Russia’s anti-gay policies, Carney said he doesn’t expects the delegation to act differently than ones to previous Olympics.
“The president has publicly expressed his disapproval of those policies,” Carney said. “I don’t expect that this delegation will comport itself any differently than previous delegates have, or delegations are expected to comport themselves.”
Toward the end of the briefing in response to a question from Yahoo! News’ Olivier Knox, Carney also he has no knowledge of whether the U.S. delegation to the Olympics would visit the White House before departing, but would make that information public if such plans are made.