White House Bombarded With Questions About Why Obama Punted On Issuing Anti-Discrimination Order

White House spokesperson Jay Carney sought to explain the administration’s decision to punt on issuing an executive order that would have prohibited discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity in federal contracting. Responding to multiple questions from NBC News, Washington Blade, and Metro Weekly, Carney engaged in an eight minute back-and-forth with reporters and insisted that Obama had decided against issuing the protections so he could turn his attention to building support for the more-comprehensive Employment Nondiscrimination Act (ENDA), which would prohibit all employers from discriminating against gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender employees.

Carney insisted that the administration’s legislative approach is similar to its strategy in passing the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell:

Q: Can you make the distinction between ENDA and signing this executive order? In other words, if he does support ENDA, why not sign this executive order which relates to a smaller part of the population to get that policy started?

CARNEY: I think the DADT repeal is instructive here in terms of the approach that we’re taking at this time…We’re deeply committed to working with partners in the LGBT community on a number of fronts to build the case for employment nondiscrimination policies. […]

Q: Is this a political calculation?

CARNEY: Absolutely not, the president is committed to securing equal rights for LGBT Americans, and that is why he has long supported ENDA….The approach we’re taking at this time is try to build support for passage of this legislation, a comprehensive approach, to legislate on the issue of non-discrimination.

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Gay advocacy groups were disappointed with the administration’s decision, particularly since the order had already been approved by the Departments of Labor and Justice and would have expanded employment protections for up to 16 million Americans.

Several activists who attended a meeting at the White House yesterday to discuss the matter told the Wall Street Journal they “left with the impression that the administration is wary of imposing additional requirements on businesses ahead of the election, not that it worries about taking a stand against employment discrimination.” “They want zero new obligations on business before Election Day,” said one gay-rights activist. “This is an artful way of kicking the can down the sidewalk.”

Obama’s decision was also condemned by Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR), who issued a statement expressing his disappointment. “I appreciate the President’s support for ENDA and will keep pushing for legislative action. However, an executive order would be a very constructive step forward and help build momentum to pass the bill,” he said. “It’s disappointing that the White House is passing on an opportunity to make immediate gains for equal opportunity in America.”