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White House Press Corps Proves To Be Refreshingly Resistant To Hilary Rosen Fever

Posted: 04/12/2012 6:40 pm

Jay Carney

Kudos, I believe, are in order for your White House Press Corps. Given the opportunity to form a pack and feast on the easy empty calories of the Hilary Rosen story, reporters instead opted to be exemplars of restraint, seekers of substance, and, in the end, when they did gang up on White House Press Secretary Jay Carney, they did so over a pretty important issue. So, let's give them credit for being largely resistant to today's strain of outrage fever.

This is not to say that the matter did not come up. And, indeed, during a White House press briefing, it was the first topic of discussion:

Q: On the Ann Romney/Hilary Rosen controversy from yesterday, what is the White House view of Hilary Rosen’s remark that Ann Romney hadn’t worked a day in her life? Is the President aware of it? Has he had any personal observations about it?

Secondly, the Romney campaign claims that Hilary Rosen is tight with you guys and has been in here 35 times for consultations. Is that correct? And does 35 visits by any Democratic consultant confer any particular status on her as far as being up close or in any kind of advisory role at the White House?

Carney responded by pointing out that he had had no specific discussions with the president on the matter. He also offered a repudiation of Rosen's statement, and, as one should expect, briefly walked through all of the campaign's talking points about women, unemployment and the Ryan Budget, et cetera. There was a follow-up question on Rosen's (or Rosens', as in plural -- "I know three, personally, women named Hilary Rosen," said Carney) visits to the White House and a pair of questions about her relationship with the president ("Well, again, I don't know what the relationship is," Carney answered).

But except for one question that was briefly asked and answered in the course of the press conference, that was it. The press corps largely moved on to substantive topics: French President Nicolas Sarkozy and oil markets, the ongoing unrest in Syria, the pending North Korean rocket launch, the Buffett Rule, the GSA spending scandal and other matters.

And laudably, when reporters did pack up and start giving Carney a full-scale bombardment, it was over something of importance to ordinary people: the Obama administration's (frankly, surprising) decision to delay the implementation of an executive order that was meant to prohibit federal contractors from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation. As Igor Volsky wrote earlier today:

The delay represents a departure for the president who committed to supporting a “formal written policy of non-discrimination that includes sexual orientation and gender identity or expression…for all Federal contractors” as a candidate in 2008 and pledged to fight for the community in 2009 and 2011. “I’m here with a simple message: I’m here with you in that fight,” Obama told the Human Rights Campaign in 2009, adding, “Nobody in America should be fired because they’re gay, despite doing a great job and meeting their responsibilities. It’s not fair. It’s not right. We’re going to put a stop to it.”

As Volsky subsequently reported, the press corps gave it to Carney good:

Responding to multiple questions from NBC News, Washington Blade, and Metro Weekly, Carney engaged in an eight minute back-and-forth with reporters and insisted that Obama had decided against issuing the protections so he could turn his attention to building support for the more-comprehensive Employment Nondiscrimination Act (ENDA), which would prohibit all employers from discriminating against gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender employees.

[The entire exchange on the matter is appended, below.]

So, the White House Press Corps managed to be engagingly adversarial without relying on the cheap outrage of the day to do so, which to my mind is precisely what one should want.

Q: Jay, the President has decided at this moment not to sign an executive order that would ban workplace discrimination by any federal contractor on the basis of sexual orientation. Based on the fact that the President has made past statements saying that he supports non-discrimination policies in the workplace, why not sign this executive order?

MR. CARNEY: Thank you for the question. The President is dedicated to securing equal rights for all LGBT Americans. And that is why he has long supported an inclusive employment non-discrimination act which would prohibit employers across the country from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. The President is committed to lasting and comprehensive non-discrimination protections, and we plan to pursue a number of strategies to attain that goal. Our hope is these efforts will result in the passage of ENDA, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which is a legislative solution to LGBT employment discrimination.

And I would make the comparison here that pursuing that strategy, the passage of ENDA, is very similar to the approach the President took for the legislative repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell.”

Q: Can you make the distinction between ENDA and signing this executive order? In other words, if he does support ENDA, why not sign this executive order, which relates to a smaller part of the population and get that policy started?

MR. CARNEY: Again, I think that the DADT repeal is instructive here in terms of the approach that we’re taking at this time. And 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 EO on LGBT non-discrimination for federal contractors will be issued at this time. We support, as I just said, legislation that has been introduced -- the Employment Non-Discrimination Act -- and we will continue to work with congressional supporters to build -- sponsors, rather, to build support for it.

We’re deeply committed to working hand-in-hand with partners in the LGBT community on a number of fronts to build the case for employment non-discrimination policies including by complementing the existing body of compelling research with government-backed data and analysis, building a coalition of key stakeholders and decision-makers, directly engaging with and educating all sectors of the business community -- from major corporations to contractors to small business -- and raising public awareness about the human and financial costs of discrimination in the work force.

Q: Tico Almeida, who’s the president of Freedom to Work, has issued a statement saying, “This is a political calculation that cannot stand.” Is this a political calculation?

MR. CARNEY: Absolutely not. The President is committed to securing equal rights for LGBT Americans and that is why he has long supported ENDA. I think the President’s record on LGBT issues speaks volumes about his commitment to securing equal rights for LGBT Americans. The approach we’re taking at this time is to try to build support for passage of this legislation, a comprehensive approach to legislate on the issue of non-discrimination.

And I think, again, the approach that we took in bringing about the repeal -- working with Congress to bring about the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell” is instructive here. And as it did then, our approach to this piece of legislation demonstrates the President’s very firm and strong commitment to non-discrimination and to securing equal rights for all Americans.

Q: Jay, if it's not going to happen at this time -- some sort of commitment to or issue an executive order at a later time?

MR. CARNEY: Well, I’m simply saying that our approach is to focus on trying to build and expand support for passage of ENDA. That is our support. In terms of, again -- as a rule -- and we try to stick to it here -- we don’t talk about executive orders that may or may not be under consideration. In this case, I can tell you that at this time we are not considering such an executive order. We are, however, actively working with stakeholders to build support for passage through Congress of a piece of legislation that would be far more comprehensive than an executive order.

Hey, guys, one at a time.

Q: It’s highly unlikely that the Congress will pass it given its current makeup. And the President has issued numerous executive orders under the theme “We Can’t Wait” -- has been unable to pass job legislation. Why is the President making this distinction with this LGBQ --

MR. CARNEY: We believe that this is the right approach to achieve success here in a broad and comprehensive legislative action. And at this time, we’re not considering as a part of that an executive order.

Now, there are executive orders that this President has signed and there are executive orders, either real or imagined, that the President has not acted on, and that’s because we look at each issue and we decide on a strategy that we think makes the most sense to achieving the President’s policy objectives.

Q: Does the President believe that Executive Order 11246 that has been in place since 1965 is redundant to Title VII?

MR. CARNEY: You’re going to have to --

Q: That’s the federal contractor executive order that has been in place for race, religion and sex since 1965.

MR. CARNEY: I haven’t had that discussion with him, Chris. What I do know for a fact is that this President is absolutely dedicated to securing equal rights for LGBT Americans. I think his record speaks volumes in support of that statement. And I think that the strategy that he pursued and the work that he did with Congress, with allies, in support of repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell” testifies to his commitment. And you can --

Q: But unlike “don’t ask, don’t tell”, the executive order route on employment nondiscrimination for federal contractors has a separate portion even in addition to the legislative route that has been in existence since 1965. So this is not the same as “don’t ask, don’t tell.” And why has the President not approached in a similar way to that law?

MR. CARNEY: It is a similar approach to the approach we took to “don’t ask, don’t tell.” Again, I haven’t talked to him about other executive orders here. What I can tell you is we’re not considering an executive order on this at this time. We are focused on a legislative approach, a comprehensive approach that would be much broader through legislation. And we are going to work with stakeholders to try to build support for passage of ENDA.

Q: One question before we move on. You’ve said that the President legislatively repealed “don’t ask, don’t tell.” While that’s true, he twice took in this sort of action to (inaudible) discharge authority twice before that repeal legislation was passed. So to say that you need to have legislation to go with administrative action first is not true.

MR. CARNEY: Well, that’s actually not a correction, Chris. It is a separate statement of action and fact. We are not approaching this at this time through executive authority, through an executive order. We are, however -- in another demonstration of the President’s firm commitment to securing equal rights for the LGBT community -- aggressively pursuing passage of ENDA. And that requires working with stakeholders and building a body of persuasive evidence that this is the right thing to do. And that is what we’re committed to doing.

[As always, the transcripts for all White House Press Briefings are available on the White House's website, here.]

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