Federal contractors must have pushed back hard at the Obama Administration. Either that, or the White House just values them a whole lot. Over the past couple weeks, not one but two potential restrictions on them have been lifted. The first was when the Administration abandoned a plan to force disclosure of political donations by companies who have contracts with the federal government. And the second dropped today:
The Obama administration on Wednesday decided not to move forward with an executive order prohibiting workplace discrimination among federal contractors that is a top priority for the LGBT community.
“While it is not our usual practice to discuss Executive Orders that may or may not be under consideration, we do not expect that an Executive Order on LGBT non-discrimination for federal contractors will be issued at this time,” a senior administration official told The Huffington Post. “We support legislation that has been introduced and we will continue to work with congressional sponsors to build support for it.”
The decision is a blow to LGBT activists who had huddled with administration officials at the White House earlier in the day to discuss the status of the executive order. That meeting featured White House senior adviser Valerie Jarrett along with officials from the Human Rights Campaign, Center for American Progress, National Gay and Lesbian Task Force and other groups.
The New York Times has basically the same story out, with the exact same anonymous quote justifying the decision, but it’s striking that they attributed the talking point to “an administration official who would speak about the controversy only if provided anonymity.” As if this wasn’t an emailed press release from the Administration, which went to every reporter the same way. There wasn’t this moment of conscience where this official had to decide to spill the beans, but only if he could protect his livelihood through anonymity.
As for the decision, the White House obviously feels it can have the President fly around the country and speak at gay fundraisers, including one on the same day as this announcement, without moving on policy he could set to advance their rights. They’ve made the calculation that LGBT voters have nowhere to turn, and that they’ve done enough for that community.
72 lawmakers had urged the President to sign the executive order protecting LGBT federal contractor employees, for whom there are currently no federal protections. ENDA, the legislation the White House supports, hasn’t passed and won’t in this Congress. The strongly Democratic Congress from 2009-2010 never got around to it. There was also controversy over whether or not to make it “fully inclusive,” including protections for the transgender community. The White House says they support fully inclusive ENDA.
The only plausible explanation I’ve heard from the White House is that they want something lasting, rather than an executive order that can be repealed. But as the NYT points out, this is a departure from the “we can’t wait” campaign, where the Administration stretches the limits of what they can initiate because Congress is dysfunctional. There’s no bar on passing ENDA either with or without an executive order. This just forces LGBT workers to wait for protections for another year or more.
The LGBT community acted very forcefully when denied equality previously, forcing the White House to sit up and pay attention. I expect them to do so again.