May 1, 2014 | by Chris Johnson
Despite Biden’s remarks, no news from Carney on ENDA exec order
White House Press Secretary, Jay Carney, Gay News, Washington Blade

White House Press Secretary, Jay Carney continues to dodge questions on the ENDA executive order. (Washington Blade photo by Damien Salas)

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney had no announcements on Thursday in response to questions on a potential executive order barring LGBT workplace discrimination among federal contractors in the wake of recent comments from Vice President Joseph Biden that there’s no downside to issuing the directive.

Under questioning from The Huffington Post’s Jennifer Bendery, Carney declined to say whether President Obama agrees there’s no downside to an order prohibiting anti-LGBT bias among federal contractors. Instead, Carney reiterated — as Biden also articulated during the interview — support for the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, saying that would be “the big accomplishment.”

“I don’t have any updates on suggested or proposed executive orders,” Carney said. “What I can tell is that we still call on the House to follow the Senate’s lead and pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act.”

As part of his response, Carney seemed to address earlier remarks he made — to the consternation of LGBT advocates — that an executive order would be “redundant” with ENDA in place, acknowledging legislation and a directive may serve different functions for certain issues.

“Points have been made, and I think it’s in response to something I said earlier, that it’s clear that executive orders aren’t necessarily completely overlapping with what would be achieved by legislation,” Carney said.

Biden made the comments in an interview with Bendery. Following the briefing, Bendery told the Blade that Biden addressed the directive within a larger interview about sexual assault. Bendery said she didn’t alert Biden’s team ahead of time that she’d ask about the executive order, but did indicate she may ask a question that was off-topic.

Asked by Bendery about why’s there’s reluctance on the part of the administration to issue the executive order, Carney stuck to his response.

“I try not to engage in speculation about any executive action the president may or may not take,” Carney said. “What I can tell you is that there is legislation on Capitol Hill that we strongly support and would like to see passed into law.”

Tico Almeida, president of Freedom to Work, criticized Carney for refusing to affirm there would be “no downside” to an executive order against LGBT discrimination.

“Mr. Carney completely dodged the question because there is no downside to the executive order,” Almeida said. “Vice President Biden is 100 percent right about that. The upside is being on the right side of history and preventing taxpayer money from being wasted on anti-LGBT discrimination.”

Amid speculation that Biden’s remarks would lead to Obama signing the order, much like the vice president’s apparent endorsement of marriage equality preceded Obama’s support, mainstream media showed no interest during the White House briefing about Biden’s saying there’s no downside to the executive order. The only media outlet called on that asked about the directive was The Huffington Post.

That’s different from the news briefing held the day after Biden made his now famous remarks regarding marriage equality on NBC’s “Meet the Press” in 2012. At the time, question after question from the media on Obama’s views on marriage equality made up the preponderance of the 45-minute briefing.

Nonetheless, Carney asserted during the briefing that he welcomes questions on the issue because LGBT workplace discrimination protections are important.

“He answered a question about it, as I have repeatedly,” Carney said. “And I’m happy to. I think this is an incredibly important issue, and I think it’s remarkable how much progress has been made, and remarkable that there is still in existence the progress that remains to be made. That’s certainly the president’s view.”

A transcript of the exchange follows:

Huffington Post: Thanks, Jay. The vice president said yesterday that he doesn’t see any downside to the the president taking executive action on LGBT workplace discrimination. Does the president agree?

Jay Carney: Well, the complete statement was we’re focused on the big accomplishment, which would be passage by both houses of Congress and the signing into law by the president of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act.

You know I think it’s, points have been made, and I think it’s in response to something I said earlier that it’s clear that executive orders aren’t necessarily completely overlapping with what would be achieved by legislation. And I think there’s no doubt the legislation would be a far greater accomplishment, more broadly applied.

And that’s why we continue to push the House to follow the Senate’s lead and pass that because those who oppose it, and I hope, and at least their children will regret the reasons why put forward. Because they sound a lot like the reasons opponents who argued against civil rights legislation in the past year. And they were wrong then and wrong now.

So, I don’t have any updates on suggested or proposed executive orders. What I can tell is that we still call on the House to follow the Senate’s lead and pass the Employment Non-Discrimiantion Act.

Huffington Post: Why is there a reluctance to do something on the executive order if it complements the broader push that you guys really want?

Carney: Again, I just don’t engage in discussion about speculative executive orders. When we, the president, decides to take action using his administrative authorities —

Huffington Post: The vice president speculated —

Carney: He answered a question about it, as I have repeatedly. And I’m happy to. I think this is an incredibly important issue, and I think it’s remarkable how much progress has been made, and remarkable that there is still in existence the progress that remains to be made. That’s certainly the president’s view.

I just don’t — I try not to engage in speculation about any executive action the president may or may not take. What I can tell you is that there is legislation on Capitol Hill that we strongly support and would like to see passed into law.

Chris Johnson is Chief Political & White House Reporter for the Washington Blade. Johnson attends the daily White House press briefings and is a member of the White House Correspondents' Association. Follow Chris

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