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Will President Obama’s new focus on executive orders include ENDA?


Just a week ago, President Obama told reporters that his administration would not be waiting for Congress anymore, and that he would move forward on pushing his priorities through executive orders.

“I’ve got a pen and I’ve got a phone,” Obama said, “and I can use that pen to sign executive orders and take executive actions and administrative actions that move the ball forward in helping to make sure our kids are getting the best education possible and making sure that our businesses are getting the kind of support and help they need to grow and advance to make sure that people are getting the skills that they need to get those jobs that our businesses are creating.”

As Justin Snow of Metro Weekly pointed out in a piece from late last week titled ‘Obama’s executive order problem,’ the president’s words did not go unheeded by LGBT advocates, who are still pressuring the administration to issue an executive order banning discrimination employment among federal contractors on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.  From Snow’s piece:

For nearly two years Obama’s White House has been forced to defend a broken promise to the LGBT community. It was in April 2012 that White House senior adviser Valerie Jarrett told leaders from some of the nation’s largest LGBT-rights organizations that Obama would not sign an executive order prohibiting federal contractors from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. The revelation was a major and unexpected blow to advocates, who had long sought the order and who thought Obama, having promised to sign such an executive order as a candidate for president in 2008, would deliver.

Since that meeting, the White House has sought to defend its decision by telling supporters and the press that Obama supports passage of comprehensive federal legislation — the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) — that will protect all workers, rather than just employees of federal contractors. That argument hasn’t sat well with LGBT activists, who have been some of the president’s most passionate defenders. They too support ENDA, but argue signing an executive order is a tangible step forward the president could take now.

But as White House press secretary Jay Carney told reporters last week, the administration still wants to pursue a legislative solution to LGBT employment discrimination, not an executive order solution:

When asked specifically about the executive order for LGBT federal contractors, Carney reiterated what the White House has been saying for years: “It is our belief that the best way to deal with employment discrimination practices is to pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which is a broad piece of legislation that would apply broadly. And that is where we have put our energy. And I just don’t have any new information to convey with regards to questions about executive orders on this matter.”

Before the 2012 election, I wrote a few pieces wondering whether we would see an ENDA executive order or a marriage equality announcement from President Obama, since getting both seemed relatively unlikely.  I posited that a public expression of support for marriage equality was much more probable, and indeed that did happen in May 2012.

Now, almost two years later, with ENDA having cleared the U.S. Senate yet appearing DOA in the House (and with the House looking out-of-sight for Democrats in this year’s midterm elections), the pressure for an ENDA executive order is only going to grow.  As the president said, he has a pen.

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  • 1. Maria  |  January 21, 2014 at 9:37 am

    I think Obama would not sign an executive order prohibiting federal contractors from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.

  • 2. Mike in Baltimore  |  January 21, 2014 at 10:07 am

    Now can you explain why you 'think' that way?

    Many times it is easy to make a statement like yours, but with no explanation, it can make you look like a bigot.

    And you wrote 'would not'. Did you mean 'should not'? The wording CAN make a difference, but still needs explaining. Of course, if you choose not to explain why you hold that opinion, that also says a lot about your opinion.

    By the way, how do you stand on the issue of ENDA?

  • 3. Eric  |  January 21, 2014 at 1:44 pm

    He hasn't for the past six years, that's probably indicative of his future performance.

    He did have the largest majorities in Congress in a generation and made no effort to pass ENDA in the first 100-days of his administration.

  • 4. Deeelaaach  |  January 22, 2014 at 11:26 pm

    Agreed. His past performance is (likely) indicative of future performance. I hope he keeps his promise for an ENDA for federal contractors etc, but I'm not going to hold my breath. I was quite upset when Sen. Frank with the backing of only the HRC threw the T under the bus in 2007. Yes, I belong to the T.

    And I was happy to see that HRC was the only group that did not support us. Meaning I was happy that all the other groups supported us, and lamented the lack of support from HRC, even though I understood why they went the way they did (according to their statements at the time).

    On the other hand, the party of NO and its supporters get a lot of mileage out of Obama's use of the executive order and refuse to see their party's duplicity in the need to use that pen, highlighted most explicitly by opposing things they support once Obama proposes to do it their way. This is a problem for which there is no good (political) solution.

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