Despite the fact that President Obama has issued fewer executive orders than any modern president, congressional Republicans tend to include these orders in their indictment against the White House. Obama’s willingness to use executive orders in response to congressional intransigence, GOP officials argue, is emblematic of an out-of-control tyrant.
With this in mind, yesterday offered a unique opportunity. The White House announced it’s preparing an executive order protecting LGBT Americans from employment discrimination among business that contract with the government. For the right, it’s a story that checked a lot of boxes: an executive order on gay rights that regulates the private sector.
Obama effectively painted a bull’s eye, inviting Republican apoplexy. And yet, crickets.
Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) issued a brief statement, urging the president to include exemptions for religiously-based businesses, but Roll Call’s Steven Dennis reported:
Other Republican lawmakers didn’t immediately react to the news.
Remember, congressional Republicans tend to have angry press releases on a hair trigger – the moment there are rumors that Obama might do something they don’t like, partisan screeds are ready to go. When the president announced an executive order on the minimum wage in January, conservative lawmakers acted as if the sky were falling.
But nearly 24 hours later, no one in the GOP leadership in either chamber has said a word about the president pursuing the goals of the Employment Non-Discrimination act through an executive order.
Why is that?
Greg Sargent’s report added some important context.
Prominent gay rights advocate Richard Socarides recalls that in 1998, Bill Clinton signed an executive order prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation in the federal workforce. At that time, Congressional Republicans mobilized to block it with a bill that would have prohibited government agencies from spending money to enforce it – in effect, defunding the Executive Order. It got nearly 200 Yes votes, Socarides recalls.“We were worried the move to defund it would succeed,” Socarides says. “Now, what a difference.”
The point, of course, is not that Republicans are quietly moving to the left on gay rights. They’re not. If GOP leaders were actually progressing on this issue, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) wouldn’t be blocking a House vote on ENDA and Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) wouldn’t be equating homosexuality with alcoholism.
Rather, the point is that the political winds have changed to such an extent that Republicans no longer see this issue as an electoral winner. In 2004, GOP officials, from George W. Bush to U.S. House candidates, still saw gay rights as such an effective wedge issue, they spent much of the year touting an anti-gay amendment to the Constitution.
A decade later, Republicans can read a poll just as well as anyone else, and it’s become obvious to them that gay bashing simply doesn’t help the party the way it used to.
Update: Both Boehner’s office and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s office specifically turned down a chance to comment on the president’s executive order.