May 1, 2014 at 5:56 am EDT | by Chris Johnson
Biden triggers speculation about ENDA executive order
Vice President Joseph Biden said he sees no downside to an executive order protecting LGBT workers (Blade file photo by Michael Key).

Vice President Joseph Biden said he sees no downside to an executive order barring bias against LGBT workers. (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Vice President Joseph Biden said in an interview with The Huffington Post’s Jennifer Bendery on Thursday he sees “no downside” to President Obama’s signing an executive order barring federal contractors from engaging in anti-LGBT workplace discrimination.

Although Biden said passage of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act would be a better approach to combatting anti-LGBT discrimination because passage of the legislation “ends it everywhere,” his comments on the executive order raise a question: Will it be enough to push Obama, who has withheld the order despite calls from LGBT advocates, to sign the directive?

Richard Socarides, a New York-based gay advocate, was among those wondering if Biden’s latest remarks would be a catalyst for Obama to take action.

“It’s hard to know what the delay is,” Socarides said. “Maybe Biden’s remarks will help. But at this point, it’s hard to know.”

After all, when Biden appeared to endorse marriage equality in April 2012 on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Obama concluded his evolution on the issue himself just three days later in a TV interview with ABC’s Robin Roberts, becoming the first sitting U.S. president to endorse same-sex marriage.

John Aravosis, editor of AMERICAblog, said Biden has proved to be a bellweather on LGBT issues before and “so perhaps this is a sign that the administration is finally moving in that direction.”

“It’s also possibly a sign that Biden is being Biden and saying something out of school,” Aravosis said. “I think we always need more fuel — clearly, the administration hasn’t done the executive order, and until they do, we need more fuel.”

The White House didn’t respond to the Washington Blade’s request for comment on whether Biden’s words mark any change in position for the administration. During periodic requests for comment on the issue during news briefings, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney has said the White House prefers a legislative approach to addressing the issue of LGBT workplace protections.

Not so long ago, Biden made similar comments against LGBT workplace discrimination during a speech at a Human Rights Campaign dinner in Los Angeles, saying the lack of federal non-discrimination protections in the workplace was “close to barbaric.” Although Biden omitted any mention of the executive order from the speech in March, he called on Congress to immediately pass ENDA.

Mark Daley, spokesperson for the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force, said the views his organization articulated after those remarks remain the same now that Biden has explicitly dismissed any concerns about the executive order.

“As we saw with marriage equality, Vice President Biden is sometimes the person who will preview a presidential decision,” Daley said. “So let’s hope his most recent comments means that a non-discrimination executive order is imminent from President Obama.”

Meanwhile, LGBT advocates pounced on Biden’s remarks as an opportunity to reiterate that both passage of ENDA and the signing of an executive order is necessary to institute protections for LGBT workers at the same level that they exist for other categories of workers, such as race, religion and gender.

Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), chief sponsor of ENDA in the Senate and one of the biggest proponents of the executive order, echoed the sense via Twitter there’s no downside to the executive order.


Fred Sainz, vice president of communications for the Human Rights Campaign, said Biden’s remarks demonstrate the potential impact of the executive order is known by senior administration officials.

“The vice president’s comments are further compelling proof that the importance of the executive order is understood at the highest levels of the administration,” Sainz said. “The executive order and ENDA protect LGBT workers in two very different ways. This has never been a question of one over the other. We need both.”

Tico Almeida, president of Freedom to Work, said Biden has resumed his “reoccurring role as the White House’s inconvenient truth teller” by saying there’s no downside to the executive order.

“No matter if Jay Carney incorrectly calls the policy ‘redundant’ or other officials invent excuses for delay, the vice president is right that there’s no downside,” Almeida said. “In fact, in an election year where Democrats need to fire up the base, there’s actually political upside that combines with the greater good of being on the right side of history just like Presidents FDR and Eisenhower who signed federal contractor executive orders before Congress passed the Civil Rights Act.”

Almeida, pointing to a graphic his organization made on Biden last year, added that as Pride month approaches in June, expectations among LGBT advocates will increase that this policy will finally happen.

But not all LGBT advocates are drawing on the Biden comments to double-down on their call for an executive order and are instead refocusing on ENDA.

Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.), who’s gay and chief sponsor of ENDA in the U.S. House, turned attention to the legislation that continues to languish in the Republican-controlled House, but said he continues to support the executive order.

“The best way to ensure that all Americans are judged by the quality of their work, not who they love, is for the House to pass the bipartisan Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which currently has 203 cosponsors,” Polis said. “Until that happens, I have and will continue to urge the president to sign an executive order prohibiting discrimination of LGBT employees by federal contractors.”

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

  • This is just more bullcrap that has to be woven into federal contract language. Thanks for more efficiencies. This law will add about 3 days admin time and roughly $5 – 10K to the cost of developing a statement of work.

  • I do believe in the Employment Non-Discrimination Act though, that's where this sort of rule/law should be issued, across the board, not just in federal contracts… that's stupid.

  • Biden is right when said ENDA struck in the congress is best but however a small step is welcomed

  • Obama's, DNC's fundraising con game w/ ENDA EO

    Adam, what’s really ‘stupid’ is the notion that if President Obama affirms equal rights to employment non-discrimination for LGBT federal contract workers, that is a zero sum effort in relation to all LGBT workers receiving the same affirmation from Congress.
    The former presidential action will not cause loss to the latter congressional action. That is likely what a very politically savvy Joe Biden was candidly acknowledging. The former ‘federal ENDA’ EO action by the Prez — as he promised to do in 2008 — will only IMPROVE chances of the latter action by Congress, a full ENDA law. So yes, their is no political ‘downside’ to an Obama federal contractor EO.
    Indeed, many undecided/ ‘swing’ votes on the Hill can, and likely DO use Obama’s failure to sign an EO for federal contract LGBTs as a political excuse to withhold THEIR support for a full ENDA. It is hard for anyone to argue with their political-risk reasoning.
    Why should House members, Dem or GOP, stick their necks out politically, when the Prez himself has so brazenly broken his own promise to sign an EO for LGBTs — among his strongest, most loyal supporters?
    Obama and Biden both know that. So do congressional Dem leaders. But they don’t care about LGBT families without jobs due to federal contractor discrimination. Their cynical con game to weasel more donations out Democratic Party donors is what matters most in 2014.
    Those Dem party donors should just say NO this time. We’ve already waited through Obama’s broken promise too long.
    As the Washington Post noted LAST YEAR…
    How to protect gay workers
    By Editorial Board, Published: August 4, 2013
    “Mr. Obama promised on the campaign trail in 2008 that he would sign an executive order protecting gays in the federal contractor force. His failure to do so becomes increasingly indefensible and inexplicable by the day. An executive order could generate momentum for ENDA, not to mention put in place at least some protections until the act becomes law.
    After helping to end discrimination in the military and publicly endorsing same-sex marriage in his first term, it’s time the president honor the promise he made five years ago.”

  • We The People DEMAND that Executive Orders Are To Be Banned And Illegal

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