Dr. Jillian T. Weiss

More White House Briefing: A Strong Administration, Or A Weak Administration?

Filed By Dr. Jillian T. Weiss | July 05, 2010 1:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Politics
Tags: LGBT media, Melody Barnes, White House, White House Domestic Policy Council

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.


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Renee Thomas | July 5, 2010 1:51 PM

No Jill,

It is a Presidential administration that seeks to cover its backside wherever and whenever it can. Its behavior defines what's wrong with American politics today - the principled and ethical stand with respect to civil rights and equal protection for all citizens must wait until the exigencies and the political downsides can be calculated and tied up into a neat bow. It is a great many things, among them - political expediency, the crass manipulation of a disadvantaged and vulnerable minority and a callow and transparent bid to play out the clock while vainly seeking to hold on to as much LGBT support as possible.

What it is not . . . is leadership

Leadership requires a kind of maturity and courage to do the right thing when it needs to be done. It is an essential quality that this President obviously lacks.

I agree with Renee. This administration lacks basic leadership. Leadership is what Obama promised to bring and has failed to do so. If he was someone I had hired to do the job, I would fire him. But I can't do that. I can only wait till the next election cycle and write him off. I have to find someone who CAN lead. Them I'll hire.

The aggravating point about this president, is that, apparently, he can be both a strong Administration that controls the agenda for issues that he really wants to pass, and a weak Administration that keeps its head down and does what it is told.

This is what a centrist Democrat does: bait-and-switch.

When there is legislation that it really supports, though not what it campaigned upon--what did he campaign upon that he hasn't deserted?--it gets though.

When there is something he doesn't really care about, there is that refrain, echoed by so many of his supporters that, well, Obama may well not truly be a weak president, but the presidency itself is a weak institution.

George Bush, while he didn't get everything he wanted, the privatization of social security comes to mind, he did get a lot, including all those things good Democrats, including Obama, complained about and campaigned against.

But now, they are what good Democrats, including Obama, now support: torture, surveillance, extra-judicial killings, Guantanamo, military commissions. And a sleight of hand on matters like DADT and, of course, ENDA.

It was curious to me that Barnes referred to the ENDA of 1997, which, of course, was not inclusive.

Maybe there is some nostalgia for the days when trans** people were so conveniently not part of this discourse? We have seen this rear its very ugly head not so long ago, and, if it really is the Congress that runs legislation, how confident can anyone really be of Barney Frank?

It is an Administration that simply understands that no LGBT-Bill can pass the US Senate. None.

As a result we see a few charades and casual efforts, but pragmatist Obama knows he can't pass the Senate and he isn't going to force the issue and just end up looking like he lost. Pragmatists worry more about their "Resume," than any actual results. (Elena Kagan is a good example of a pragmatist. She's never actually done anything and has hardly said or published anything, but wow... what a Resume).

Given what a loss the Democrats expect to take in the Congress and in particular the Senate in 2012, if you are correct that it's all a matter of the Congress, well there's really not much point in worrying about LGBT rights of the next half dozen years or so, since we're pretty much screwed in any case.

Or at least, it seems to me, that would be the logical conclusion to draw from your line of reasoning. Yeah?

Yes - it's 1994 all over again.

Well, the only option is to educate our fellow citizens and ASK them to support us. Most will. Demonstrate that with polling (in States) and we then own those Senators AND their votes.

We need a majority of support in +37 States. Today, we have 27 states. We'll never get Oklahoma, Alabama and a few other Southern (and very religious) States, but fuck em. We don't need them to win.

I'm sure that whatever happens, he'll give a really great speech about it.

:: sigh ::