Democratic National Committee Treasurer Andrew Tobias has joined those expressing concern over why President Obama hasn’t signed an executive order barring LGBT discrimination among federal contractors, saying it should be signed and its absence is “frustrating and perplexing.”
Amid renewed questions over why Obama hasn’t signed the order following a speech from Vice President Joseph Biden in which he called the lack of LGBT protections “close to barbaric,” Tobias articulated his own concerns as he maintained that fighting for Democratic control of Congress is of utmost importance.
The DNC treasurer made the comments in an off-the-record listserv for LGBT donors via an email that was leaked to the Washington Blade.
“I agree 100% with those who say it should be signed, 100% with those who believe we should keep pressing, and 100% with those who say it’s frustrating and perplexing,” Tobias wrote. “But I think we would be crazy to let it diminish our efforts to hold the Senate, get Nancy her gavel back, and lay the groundwork for a huge LGBT supporter to win the White House in 2016. (All our plausible 2016 nominees are huge LGBT supporters.)”
Tobias, who’s gay, confirmed to the Washington Blade the email indeed came from him as did other individuals on the listserv, who said the message came from his email account on Wednesday. Notably, these individuals said Tobias told LGBT donors in his email that listserv members should feel free to quote him as expressing those views. Tobias also told the Blade to quote him as such.
The remarks are noteworthy for Tobias, who has a reputation for tamping down criticism and concern over the Obama administration and the DNC for not doing enough on LGBT rights. It has particular significance because it comes at a time when the DNC is busy raising money to hold onto the Senate during the congressional midterms.
Last year in another email to the listserv following concerns at that time over the executive order, Tobias maintained everyone within the administration supports it, but that a “process” is holding it up.
Tobias’ latest remarks follow continued frustration with Obama over why he continues to withhold the executive order, which LGBT advocates maintain is a 2008 campaign promise of his, after the No. 2 person in his administration called the lack of federal prohibition on LGBT workplace discrimination “close to barbaric.”
Biden made the remarks while calling on Congress to pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, legislation that would bar anti-LGBT workplace discrimination, while speaking to about 1,000 attendees at the Human Rights Campaign annual dinner in Los Angeles.
“If you think about it, it’s outrageous we’re even debating this subject,” Biden said. “I really mean it. I mean it’s almost beyond belief that today, in 2014, I could say to you, as your employee in so many states, you’re fired, because of who you love.”
The vice president never mentioned the much sought executive order in his speech, but LGBT advocates questioned why Obama hasn’t acted on the directive if the lack of protections is so barbaric. Some advocates also projected a scenario in which Obama would sign the order as a result in the days ahead.
After all, Biden’s endorsement of marriage equality on “Meet the Press” in 2012 preceded Obama’s own endorsement of marriage equality by just three days and was seen as a trigger for the president’s announcement.
Darlene Nipper, deputy executive director of the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force, was among those envisioning the executive order coming shortly from Obama as a result of the Biden address.
“As we saw with marriage equality, Vice President Biden is sometimes the person who will preview a presidential decision,” Nipper said. “So let’s hope his recent comments means that a non-discrimination executive order is imminent from President Obama.”
The White House didn’t respond to a request for comment about any updates on the possible executive order. Last week, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney reiterated the administration’s preference for legislation to bar LGBT workplace discrimination when asked by the Washington Blade about a letter signed by more than 200 Democrats calling for the directive.
“There is no question, I think, in anyone’s mind that the passage of legislation, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, would provide those protections broadly in a way the EO would not,” Carney said. “And as I’ve said before, opposition to that legislation is contrary to the tide of history and those lawmakers who oppose this will find, in the not too distant future, that they made a grave mistake and that they will regret it.”
But Biden’s description of the lack of LGBT workplace non-discrimination rules as “close to barbaric” and the continued absence of an executive order that would institute them riled members of the LGBT donor listserv, who pestered Tobias with emails over why it hasn’t been done.
In another email earlier in the week, the DNC treasurer said the best approach to the situation is highlighting stories of people harmed by the lack of the directive as well as studies showing the scale of the problem — in addition to working for Democratic electoral gains in 2014 and 2016.
Heather Cronk, managing director of the LGBT grassroots group GetEQUAL, said Biden’s use of “barbaric” to describe anti-LGBT workplace discrimination should be the driving force prompting Obama to take executive action.
“In fact, Biden’s remarks are exactly where the rest of the country is — given that 90 percent of Americans think there is already a federal law in place, one would think that this comment from Biden would kick start a commitment by the Obama administration to lead on this issue and to sign this executive order without delay,” Cronk said. “Anything less is simply dangling equality in front of our noses, hoping that we’ll show up for midterms — which is, indeed, barbaric.”
For its part, the White House continues to advocate for ENDA as pressure builds on Obama to sign the executive order.
Shin Inouye, a White House spokesperson, referenced the idea of ENDA supporters starting a discharge petition in the House to bring the bill up for a vote. A successful discharge petition requires 218 names, the same number of individuals needed to pass legislation on the House floor.
“The President continues to believe that the House should join the Senate and pass ENDA so he can sign it into law,” Inouye said. “We would welcome efforts to bring this legislation to the floor for a vote.”
LGBT advocates have told the Blade that a discharge petition should be considered a last resort to pass ENDA because the tactic is viewed as a criticism of leadership for not advancing a bill. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid dismissed the idea of the petition when speaking with reporters late last year, saying Republican leadership would discourage members from signing it before it reached 218 names.
Meanwhile, LGBT advocates have amped up their efforts to encourage U.S. House Speaker John Boehner to bring up ENDA for a vote in the House. The coalition known as Americans for Workplace Opportunity, which helped guide the Senate to pass ENDA on a bipartisan basis in September, is putting up more than $2 million to pass ENDA in the chamber. Much of the money is coming from Republican superdonors Paul Singer and Seth Klarman, who each donated $375,000.
Fred Sainz, vice president of the Human Rights Campaign, said even with the push for ENDA, Obama has “absolutely no reason” to delay in signing an executive order on behalf of LGBT workers.
“This easily has to be the most studied and mulled-over executive order in history,” Sainz said. “The leadership of this president and his entire administration on issues important to LGBT equality has been absolutely tremendous. The decision to apply nondiscrimination protections to the workers of federal contractors will fit in nicely with his historic legacy on LGBT equality.”