In a departure from previous public comments from the Obama administration, White House counselor John Podesta said on Friday an executive order barring LGBT discrimination among federal contractors is “under consideration.”
During an interview with Bloomberg News’ Al Hunt, Podesta made the remarks when asked if President Obama would issue a heavily sought-after executive order prohibiting federal contractors from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.
“Well, what he said in the State of the Union was he was going to require federal contractors to pay a minimum wage of $10.10,” Podesta said. “The order that you’re talking about is under consideration at the White House. We’re looking at that.”
Asked by Hunt what Obama is likely to do, Podesta said, “Well, you know, I’m not going to prejudge that.”
Podesta’s assertion the executive order is “under consideration” is consistent with an email from Democratic National Committee Treasurer Andy Tobias leaked to the Washington Blade in June in which he said a “process” is holding up the directive. It’s also consistent with a one-time statement from White House spokesperson Shin Inouye that the administration “continue[s] to study the issue.”
When questioned about Podesta’s remarks on Saturday, Inouye repeated the more familiar refrain that the administration has no updates on an executive order.
“We continue to urge Congress to pass ENDA,” Inouye said. “We have no further updates on this issue.”
While LGBT advocates continue to scratch their heads over why Obama hasn’t issued the executive order and maintain the directive is one of his campaign promises, Podesta couldn’t identify a reason to withhold the order when pressed by Hunt.
Saying the administration continues to push for passage of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act — legislation that would bar LGBT discrimination in the workforce — Podesta maintained the White House wants to see “whether that’s possible.”
“I think the argument against doing it — there is no real argument against non-discrimination in the workplace,” Podesta said. “I think the question is we’ve been putting the forward the effort to get a comprehensive ENDA through the Congress. We’ll see whether that’s possible.”
Tico Almeida, president of Freedom to Work, welcomed the comments from Podesta, but said the time for consideration of the executive order is over.
“It’s great to hear Mr. Podesta say that the LGBT executive order is still under consideration at the White House, and I know that many LGBT organizations plan to keep pushing until this long overdue campaign promise becomes a reality,” Almeida said. “But I don’t think there’s anything left to study or consider: both Republican and Democratic presidents before President Obama have signed orders banning discrimination at federal contractors and they’ve always been upheld in the courts. This order fits perfectly with the White House plans for a ‘year of action,’ and the time to sign is now.”
Podesta, who recently joined the White House staff as counselor after serving as president for the Center for American Progress, has a reputation for supporting executive action for U.S. presidents. In a 2010 report titled, “The Power of the President: Recommendations to Advance Positive Change,” Podesta advocates for the use of executive power for Obama to advance job creation and economic competitiveness as well as to improve education, health care and security.
The assertion the executive order is “under consideration” contradicts statements from the White House that the directive is “hypothetical” in nature. On the same day Podesta made the remarks, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney characterized the directive as “hypothetical” when questioned by the Blade.