White House insists ENDA a priority despite no State of the Union mention

Posted by Justin Snow
January 29, 2014 5:44 PM |

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The White House insisted Wednesday that President Obama's failure to call on Congress to pass federal legislation prohibiting LGBT workplace discrimination during his State of the Union address does not reflect a lack of commitment to that issue.

Speaking to reporters aboard Air Force One en route to an event in Pittsburgh, White House press secretary Jay Carney said Obama's position on LGBT-rights is "crystal clear."

"When it comes to the Employment Non-discrimination Act, he is fiercely supportive of that effort, enormously gratified by the fact the Senate took action and very hopeful that the House will follow suit. Because as I've said many times, reflecting his opinion, members of the House who block this are being left at the station as the train moves forward on what would obviously be an America where equal rights are extended to all Americans," Carney said. "So I think his record on LGBT rights is crystal-clear, his position is crystal-clear, and he continues to press Congress to take action on ENDA."

Obama came under fire from LGBT-rights advocates and ENDA supporters for his failure to so much as allude to the bill, which would prohibit most employers from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, during Tuesday night's speech. ENDA received its first vote in the Senate since 1996 this past November, where it was approved with a bipartisan 64-32 vote. However, the bill hit a wall in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives, where Speaker John Boehner indicated he is unlikely to bring it up for a vote. 

The Human Rights Campaign, Freedom to Work, Log Cabin Republicans and others all blasted Obama for missing an opportunity to call on Congress to prohibit LGBT workplace discrimination before a national audience.

Although Obama did not mention ENDA, nor did he indicate he would make good on a 2008 campaign promise to sign an executive order prohibiting federal contractors from LGBT workplace discrimination, a White House fact sheet outlining Obama's agenda stated that Obama renews his call for the House to pass ENDA.

"[T]he President did not enumerate everything he wants done and everything he supports in his State of the Union address," Carney said Wednesday. "No president ever has."

A White House transcript of the exchange is below:

Q: And on this broad question again of using executive authority, are there particular sectors where you think -- having done this assessment -- where you think it will be most effective?  I mean, obviously you're very focused on a couple of economic initiatives now, but beyond that, can you just give us a sense of where are the areas where you think the President has the most leverage to do it? 

MR. CARNEY:  Well, it depends on what kind of use of the pen and the phone you're asking about.  When it comes to executive orders like the one to raise the minimum wage for federal contracts, that depends obviously on analysis of where he has the authority to do things.  He has a much broader capacity to lift up and rally support around issues like the need to expand educational opportunity, access to education, or the need to connect skills training to employers.

You saw that with the summit a few weeks ago.  You’ve seen it, another use of his authority in the establishment of manufacturing institutes, and he said last night that he intends to create four by the end of the year.  And that obviously has enormous beneficial impact on the continued revival of manufacturing in this country. 

So I think the opportunities are pretty broad.  But we shouldn’t look at what a President can do simply through the prism of what legislation can get passed, nor should we look at what a President can do using the power of his office only through the ability to sign executive orders or presidential memoranda, because another aspect of his office and the authority is not specific to those issues.  I want to be clear.  This is not -- I'm not foreshadowing anything.  But obviously, the President did not enumerate everything he wants done and everything he supports in his State of the Union address.  No President ever has.  

When it comes to the Employment Non-discrimination Act, he is fiercely supportive of that effort, enormously gratified by the fact the Senate took action and very hopeful that the House will follow suit.  Because as I've said many times, reflecting his opinion, members of the House who block this are being left at the station as the train moves forward on what would obviously be an America where equal rights are extended to all Americans.  So I think his record on LGBT rights is crystal-clear, his position is crystal-clear, and he continues to press Congress to take action on ENDA.

More broadly, there is a great opportunity -- greater in 2014 than we've ever seen -- to pass comprehensive immigration reform in a way that meets the principles the President laid out, that reflects the support of one of the most diverse coalitions you’ve ever seen behind legislation, including business and labor, law enforcement, faith communities, Republicans and Democrats around the country.  And we are hopeful and optimistic that the House will follow the Senate’s lead and this year pass comprehensive immigration reform. 

The President has made clear that the way to address this issue is through a bill that takes action on security, on making sure everybody is playing by the same set of rules, on reforming our legal immigration system to make sure that all those super-smart people from around the world who come and study in our universities are able to stay here and start businesses in America so that the jobs of the future are here, and that creates a process by which the 11 million undocumented people in America are able to get in line and attain citizenship.

So we remain, as the President said, hopeful and optimistic that there is progress on this important matter.  I think Congress will act.

[Photo: Jay Carney. Credit: Todd Franson/Metro Weekly.]


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