Republican presidential candidates may have threatened to undermine LGBT rights during the night of the first GOP debate, but White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest cautioned Friday against placing too much weight on their ability to make good on undoing progress seen under the Obama administration.
In response to a question from the Washington Blade, Earnest said whether any of the 17 candidates — who uniformly oppose same-sex marriage — can in fact reverse LGBT advancements is a “hard thing to say” because many of the advancements stem from increased public support.
“I think that so much of the progress that has been made is progress that a substantial number of Americans have come around to supporting,” Earnest said. “I think that speaks to not just the critically important political progress that’s been made in this country on some of the issues that you just cited, but in some ways, I think you could make a pretty persuasive argument that at least as important as that is the social progress that’s been made in communities large and small across the country in which discussions of these issues are taking place outside the context any sort of political election or partisan debate.”
Earnest acknowledged some progress wouldn’t have been possible “without some political leadership and that’s why the president is justifiably proud of his record,” but attributed progress ultimately to the public.
“The real power behind this change in the views of so many Americans as we perfect our union is the power of the American people, and the significant change that we’ve seen in a relatively short period of time,” Earnest said.
On Thursday, three candidates — former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal — pledged to take unilateral action on behalf of religious liberty as president, which is seen as code for enabling anti-LGBT discrimination. Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee objected to the Pentagon’s plan for implementing openly transgender service.
Many candidates pledged to undo Obama’s executive actions they say were acting as job killers, which in their minds may include his order prohibiting federal contractors from engaging in anti-LGBT discrimination.
When the Blade pointed out the president’s executive actions like this order and asked if they’d be in danger under a Republican presidency, Earnest affirmed some change resulted from “political leadership, including political leadership by the President of the United States.”
“And there’s no doubt that we would have liked to have seen Congress take some of the steps that the president has been forced to take on his own to try to make our country a little more just and a little bit more fair, but Congress has resisted,” Earnest added.
In the end, Earnest said LGBT rights supporters would be able to discern the candidate’s positions and make appropriate judgment when they go to the polls on Election Day in 2016.
“Those voters who prioritize these issues I’m confident will look carefully at the views and records of those who are running for president because there’s no denying the kind of authority that they could wield sitting in the Oval Office on these issues,” Earnest said.