I have discussed some of the things said in the White House briefing last week, but there is more that I was not able to get to.
One of those items I didn't yet discuss was a question from Lou Chibbaro, a veteran GLBT reporter for the Washington Blade.
Mr. Chibbaro was the first person to ask a question at the meeting, and I was surprised to hear that his question was about ENDA, to which my later question on that topic was more in the nature of a follow-up.
Lou asked whether the White House can do "two at once," meaning Don't Ask Don't Tell repeal and ENDA, given that the time for this Congressional session is rapidly running out.
He asked "What are the President's thoughts about whether either or both will be enacted this year?"
It was a great question, recalling as it does the meme from the campaign about how the Administration should be able to do two things at once.
Can the Administration do two things at once? The Administration's answer after the jump.
Assistant to the President and Director of the White House Domestic Policy Council Melody Barnes, said the following in response:
Don't Ask Don't Tell is obviously further down the queue just because the House has acted, and the Senate Armed Services Committee has acted as well, and we're waiting for action on the Senate floor.
We believe, given the work we've done with Congress, and with the Department of Defense, and with the leadership in the relevant committee and in both Houses that that's moving forward, we've doing that in partnership with DOD to ensure that this is legislation that will take, and that we can get it over the finish line.
At the same time with regard to ENDA, the President has consistently said that he supports ENDA, that he supports an inclusive ENDA, that there have been members of the Administration who have testified in support of ENDA. Stuart Ishimaru, Acting Director of the EEOC, testified, and Tom Perez also testified from the perspective of the Department of Justice in support of ENDA.
The leadership will have to decide how they're going to be able to use floor time to move things forward.
But one thing I would also say, none of us are naive, but the end of the Congress also doesn't reflect the fact that bills are never going to move and never going to pass. If in 1997 we could get within one vote of passing ENDA, no, we will continue to work on this and continue to push this.
But the leadership in the House and the Senate is going to have to decide when they can put bills on the floor and how rapidly they will be able to move given the time that is left, but we have indicated our support both for ENDA and Don't Ask Don't Tell.
So, in other words, getting bills passed is not part of the Administration's brief. It's up to the leadership. They will have to decide what's important enough to move onto the floor for a vote. And yet, the Administration will "continue to work on this and continue to push this."
This seems contradictory. Either it is not the Administration's job to get bills passed, or it is something that they "work on" and "push."
Which is it? Is outside of their bailiwick, being the mere "executive" branch, whose job it is to execute what Congress tells them to execute? Or is the Administration in a position to "move" and "push"?
If the Administration wants to convey that it is a strong leadership and that it has the power to push and move bills, then it cannot at the same time throw up its hands and say that it is up to the leadership of Congress.
Lou asked as follow-up question: "On ENDA, would the President seek it out, if Congress for whatever reason doesn't want to move on it this year, the reason people are concerned about this year, is that thought, I hope it doesn't happen, but the concern is that the Democrats are going to lose seats in both Houses, which may make it much more difficult in the next Congress, and that's why there's such an urgency."
Ms. Barnes ducked the question:
Well, I think the President has said that, he has said I want to get ENDA passed, I want to get it passed as an all-inclusive ENDA, which is an issue that Congress has grappled with in the past Congress, and that he's supportive of its passage, but the leadership is going to have to determine what is going to happen in terms of floor time.
Is this a strong Administration that controls the agenda, or a weak Administration that keeps its head down and does what it is told?
It can't be both. Can it?
This is part of a series of posts based on the White House briefing. The previous post in the series can be found here. The next in the series can be found here.