Responding to the characterization of an exchange between White House press secretary Jay Carney and Washington Blade reporter Chris Johnson –– first reported in the Blade and details of which were picked up by other media, including Gay City News –– the White House said Carney did not intend to describe a potential presidential executive order barring anti-LGBT discrimination by government contractors as “the wrong approach.”
The exchange occurred on January 31, when Johnson pressed Carney about whether the president would consider making use of the same mechanism he is utilizing –– in the face of Republican resistance to raising the minimum wage, currently $7.25 –– to ensure that government contractors pay their employees at least $10.10 per hour. In his question, Johnson noted that House Speaker John Boehner recently indicated that House action on the languishing Employment Non-Discrimination Act would not happen this year.
The exchange in question read as follows:
JOHNSON: Thanks, Jay. The Washington Blade reported this week that Speaker Boehner told the LGBT Equality Caucus there’s no way the Employment Non-Discrimination Act can get done this session. Given that forecast from the speaker, is it time for the president to sign an executive order to protect LGBT workers from discrimination?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I would simply say that that is the wrong approach, and the president strongly supports the Employment Non-Discrimination Act. He believes strongly and knows that it’s the right thing to do. I would suggest that there have been occasions when leaders in the House have declared something won’t happen and it happens anyway. And we certainly hope that's the case here.
In a Gay City News editorial published on February 5, I wrote, “On repeated occasions, the administration’s response to questions about a nondiscrimination executive order has consisted of simply pointing to Obama’s support for the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA). In fact, in a recent exchange with the Washington Blade’s Chris Johnson, who has done exemplary work in bringing this issue up at White House briefings, press secretary Jay Carney was more than a bit petulant, saying, ‘Chris, you know, we’ve talked about this a lot’ — ‘this’ being something Carney insisted on dismissing as ‘a hypothetical executive order for LGBT non-discrimination for federal contractors.’ An executive order, Carney said ‘was the wrong approach.’”
In a February 9 email, Shin Inouye, a White House spokesman, sent me the original exchange between Carney and Johnson and wrote, “As you can see from the exchange below, Jay said that the Speaker’s statement that Congress will not move forward was the wrong approach.”
When I replied that my original reading of the exchange seemed the more straightforward one, Inouye forwarded the following tweet exchange between Carney and Chris Geidner, a Buzzfeed reporter:
Chris Geidner @chrisgeidner Jan 31
So, I think for the 1st time, @PressSec today called the LGBT fed contractor EO "the wrong approach." http://bit
Jay Carney (EOP)Verified account @PressSec Jan 31
.@chrisgeidner Think you misunderstood. I was referring to the Speaker saying ENDA wouldn't get done this year as "the wrong approach."
In my exchange with Inouye, I asked since Carney does not view a nondiscrimination executive order as “the wrong approach,” what does that say about his view of it.
“I think that's a topic that Jay's covered quite extensively,” Inouye replied. “We continue to urge Congress to pass ENDA.”
On the same day as Carney’s exchanges with the Blade and Buzzfeed, John Podesta, recently named a counselor to the president, when asked about a nondiscrimination executive order, told Bloomberg News, “The order that you’re talking about is under consideration at the White House. We’re looking at that.”