White House Press Secretary Jay Carney maintained Wednesday that President Obama continues to support the Employment Non-Discrimination Act despite the lack of any mention of the bill in the State of the Union address.
Carney brought up ENDA as one measure Obama continues to push Congress to send to his desk, as well as comprehensive immigration reform, when asked during a press gaggle aboard Air Force One about the extent to which Obama can use his executive authority generally.
Although President Obama didn’t mention ENDA or an executive order barring LGBT discrimination among federal contractors during the State of the Union address on Tuesday, Carney said no president articulates “everything he wants done” during the address and Obama’s record on LGBT rights is “crystal clear.”
“When it comes to the Employment Non-discrimination Act, he is fiercely supportive of that effort, enormously gratified by the fact the Senate took action and very hopeful that the House will follow suit,” Carney said. “Because as I’ve said many times, reflecting his opinion, members of the House who block this are being left at the station as the train moves forward on what would obviously be an America where equal rights are extended to all Americans. So I think his record on LGBT rights is crystal-clear, his position is crystal-clear, and he continues to press Congress to take action on ENDA.”
LGBT advocates — most notably the Human Rights Campaign — criticized Obama for failing to include in his address ENDA or the LGBT executive order, saying those measures would have fit well in the speech’s theme of advancing the economy for every American. Additionally, the president’s declaration that would sign an executive order to raise the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour for federal contractors raised questions about why he hasn’t done the same to protect LGBT people from job discrimination.
Although Obama didn’t include a mention of ENDA in his speech, the legislation was included in a fact sheet distributed to reporters prior to the State of the Union address. It said Obama “renews his call for the House” to approve ENDA in the wake of bipartisan passage in the Senate last year.
Despite the White House’s assurance that Obama continues to push for ENDA, passage in the Republican-controlled House faces significant challenges. Just before the transcript of Carney’s remarks were public, the Washington Blade broke a news story that House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) told the LGBT Equality Caucus wouldn’t get done by the year’s end.
The exchange between the reporter and Carney follows:
Q: And on this broad question again of using executive authority, are there particular sectors where you think — having done this assessment — where you think it will be most effective? I mean, obviously you’re very focused on a couple of economic initiatives now, but beyond that, can you just give us a sense of where are the areas where you think the President has the most leverage to do it?
MR. CARNEY: Well, it depends on what kind of use of the pen and the phone you’re asking about. When it comes to executive orders like the one to raise the minimum wage for federal contracts, that depends obviously on analysis of where he has the authority to do things. He has a much broader capacity to lift up and rally support around issues like the need to expand educational opportunity, access to education, or the need to connect skills training to employers.
You saw that with the summit a few weeks ago. You’ve seen it, another use of his authority in the establishment of manufacturing institutes, and he said last night that he intends to create four by the end of the year. And that obviously has enormous beneficial impact on the continued revival of manufacturing in this country.
So I think the opportunities are pretty broad. But we shouldn’t look at what a President can do simply through the prism of what legislation can get passed, nor should we look at what a President can do using the power of his office only through the ability to sign executive orders or presidential memoranda, because another aspect of his office and the authority is not specific to those issues. I want to be clear. This is not — I’m not foreshadowing anything. But obviously, the President did not enumerate everything he wants done and everything he supports in his State of the Union address. No President ever has.
When it comes to the Employment Non-discrimination Act, he is fiercely supportive of that effort, enormously gratified by the fact the Senate took action and very hopeful that the House will follow suit. Because as I’ve said many times, reflecting his opinion, members of the House who block this are being left at the station as the train moves forward on what would obviously be an America where equal rights are extended to all Americans. So I think his record on LGBT rights is crystal-clear, his position is crystal-clear, and he continues to press Congress to take action on ENDA.
More broadly, there is a great opportunity — greater in 2014 than we’ve ever seen — to pass comprehensive immigration reform in a way that meets the principles the President laid out, that reflects the support of one of the most diverse coalitions you’ve ever seen behind legislation, including business and labor, law enforcement, faith communities, Republicans and Democrats around the country. And we are hopeful and optimistic that the House will follow the Senate’s lead and this year pass comprehensive immigration reform.
The President has made clear that the way to address this issue is through a bill that takes action on security, on making sure everybody is playing by the same set of rules, on reforming our legal immigration system to make sure that all those super-smart people from around the world who come and study in our universities are able to stay here and start businesses in America so that the jobs of the future are here, and that creates a process by which the 11 million undocumented people in America are able to get in line and attain citizenship.
So we remain, as the President said, hopeful and optimistic that there is progress on this important matter. I think Congress will act.