Yesterday the Obama administration told gay rights advocates that it wouldn’t be signing an executive order to ban LGBT discrimination among federal contractors. Today press secretary Jay Carney was peppered with questions about this, and eventually settled into an awkward set of rote talking points about Obama preferring to address LGBT discrimination via legislation rather than executive order. The Washington Post reports:
The dispute opened up an unexpected election-year rift between the president and a loyal political constituency that has scored historic victories from his White House — namely the repeal of the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy and the administration’s decision to stop advocating for the Defense of Marriage Act.
….In recent weeks activists began to worry that the White House might opt against approval. Democratic strategists are wary of any new policies that could be attacked by conservatives as anti-business, and stepping out on gay rights in the heat of an election campaign risks handing likely Republican nominee Mitt Romney a rallying point to energize the evangelicals he has thus far struggled to inspire.
Advocates were informed of Obama’s decision in a tense private meeting Wednesday with top aides Valerie Jarrett and Cecilia Munoz. The officials said the president would not sign the order “at this time” but was instead focused on pushing for passage of the federal Employment Non-Discrimination Act, according to several attendees.
This is hard to make sense of. The administration’s excuses for not signing the executive order are pretty transparently preposterous. They know perfectly well there’s no chance of passing ENDA with Republicans in control of the House, so a legislative solution is off the table. And it’s not likely they’re seriously worried about lawsuits either.
This leaves only craven political calculation as an explanation. And that’s puzzling too. Sure, it’s an election year, and everyone gets craven during election years. But really, how many evangelicals are there who are (a) likely to get energized by an executive order banning LGBT discrimination but (b) haven’t already been energized by Obama’s repeal of DADT and his refusal to defend the Defense of Marriage Act? I guess there might be a few, but it’s got to be damn few. If hating the gay is your hot button, you probably already loathe Obama about as much as you’re ever going to.
So not just craven, but really, really craven. Obama probably risked losing literally dozens of votes over this. What a wuss.