The Senate approved the Employment Non-Discrimination Act rather easily last year, with a bipartisan majority agreeing that it should be illegal to discriminate against LGBT Americans in the workplace. By most accounts, a majority of the House would vote for the same bill, which would send it to the White House for President Obama’s signature.
But House Republican leaders, for reasons they’ve struggled to articulate, have said they will not allow a vote on ENDA this year, regardless of whether it would pass or not.
And this has led ENDA proponents to push the president to consider Plan B.
Nearly 200 Democratic lawmakers have written to President Barack Obama seeking an executive order barring federal contractors from discriminating against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals in employment practices.The letter, which Democratic caucus members on both sides of the Capitol have signed on to, lists Sen. Jeff Merkley of Oregon and Rep. Jared Polis of Colorado as the first two signatories.“An executive order covering LGBT employees would be in line with a bipartisan, decades-long commitment to eradicating taxpayer-funded discrimination in the workplace. In 1941, President Roosevelt prohibited discrimination in defense contracts on the bases of race, creed, color, or national origin,” the lawmakers write. “In subsequent executive orders, Presidents Roosevelt, Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, and Johnson expanded these protections to ensure that taxpayer dollars are not used to discriminate.”
To clarify, under current law, employers can’t discriminate on the basis of race, gender, age, religion, national origin, disability, or genetic information. The point of ENDA is to extend protections to include sexual orientation and sexual identity.
Obama does not have the legal authority to extend those protections unilaterally, but in theory, he could use an executive order requiring federal contractors to abide by the legislation’s anti-discrimination goals.
But at this point, the president appears unlikely to do so.
There was some back and forth on the subject at the White House press briefing on Wednesday, with press secretary Jay Carney continuing to urge Congress to act.
REPORTER: The President yesterday received a letter from 200 members of Congress brought up to House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer, calling on him to immediately act by signing a non-discrimination executive order for LGBT workers. You’ve said before this issue is best left to Congress, but this many lawmakers are lobbing it back to the President. Has he misjudged the situation?CARNEY: Chris, we continue to support ENDA, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act. And I don’t have any update for you on proposed or possible executive orders. The fact is that legislation which has moved in the Senate, if it were to be passed by the full Congress and signed into law, would have the greatest benefit when it comes to ensuring the rights of LGBT individuals. So on the issue that you ask me about regularly of executive order proposed or speculated about, I just don’t have any updates.REPORTER: But what makes you think that legislation should be the only course of action if lawmakers in Congress are saying the President should issue an executive order as they continue to –CARNEY: Again, Chris, I just don’t have any new information to provide to you about our views on this, which we’ve discussed many times. And there is no question I think in anyone’s mind that the passage of legislation in the form of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act would provide those protections broadly in a way that an EO would not. And, as I’ve said before, opposition to that legislation is contrary to the tide of history, and that those lawmakers who oppose this will find in the not too distant future that they made a grave mistake and that they will regret it.
Given these comments, it would appear ENDA’s supporters should be focused on House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), asking him to simply let the House vote up or down, and not the White House.