Is the White House ENDA Strategy Working?

Posted November 4, 2013 at 2:29pm

Month after month, year after year, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney has deflected questions about whether President Barack Obama will issue an executive order protecting gay contractors from workplace discrimination. But not issuing the order was part of a calculated strategy to reach this point — with the Employment Non-Discrimination Act about to pass the Senate.

The idea was to avoid poisoning the well for ENDA by skipping the administrative route — and it’s a strategy the White House plans to continue for now.

As Carney would sometimes patiently explain — usually to questions at the daily briefing from Chris Johnson of the Washington Blade — the administration’s strategy mirrored its successful plans for repealing “don’t ask, don’t tell” in 2010 — when Obama resisted calls to issue an executive order ending discharges of gay soldiers.

“We believe that the right approach is to build support for passage of ENDA legislation and … I think an example of why this approach can be most effective is the way that we approached repeal of ‘don’t ask, don’t tell,’” Carney said in April 2012, in a typical exchange. “There was criticism at the time that we weren’t taking the right approach. In the end, I think it has been shown to have been the right approach and an effective approach in both building support and ensuring … that the implementation itself has been extremely effective and smooth.”

Gay lawmakers, such as Colorado Democratic Rep. Jared Polis, and gay rights groups chafed at the inaction given the legislation’s long-shot prospects. After all, Obama directed executive actions to protect other groups — notably to help young illegal immigrants who can now avoid the threat of deportation and get work permits.

But Carney made it clear Monday that the White House believes its strategy has been the correct one, when he was asked by The Associated Press’ Julie Pace if he would consider an executive order, given that Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, had announced his opposition to ENDA.

“The preferable and better path has been through Congress, because that would be inclusive. An executive order that addresses federal contractors obviously would not be inclusive. It would not extend beyond federal contracts,” Carney said.

He noted that he used to answer questions about an executive order in the context of the “skepticism that we would get this far.”

“We have come to a moment where it looks quite likely or quite possible that the Senate will pass this. So we’re going to keep pressing ahead,” he added.

As for Boehner’s opposition, Carney likened it to opposition to other civil rights measures in history but said it doesn’t have to spell doom for the bill.

“It may be taken or accepted as a fait accompli that because the speaker has said this and taken this position that it cannot move through the House, but I would point you to instances where that has not proved to be the case, as recently as the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act, which we saw happen, fortunately, earlier this year,” Carney said.

That law was passed with a minority of Republican votes. Boehner did not vote.