Vice President Joe Biden’s remark that there’s no “downside” to a presidential executive order banning anti-LGBT discrimination by federal contractors has observers wondering if he’s once again a harbinger of a position shift by President Obama.
Asked by The Huffington Post this week about his feelings on such an order, Biden said, “I don’t see any downside.” Activists have urged the president to issue such an order, saying it would provide protection to a large population of LGBT workers — all those working for companies doing business with the federal government — while antidiscrimination legislation remains pending in Congress. Obama has resisted so far, saying the legislative route is the better way to go.
Biden agreed that legislation is preferable, as it would cover a larger number of workers, but in saying there’s nothing to lose with an executive order, he may be dropping hints that the president is about to sign one — or perhaps providing the catalyst for him to do so. Two years ago, Biden’s statement of support for marriage equality preceded Obama’s by just a few days. Some political commentators thought Biden was testing the waters for Obama, although a new book contends he forced the president’s hand.
The vice president’s latest statement provides reason for optimism about an executive order, in the mind of some observers. “As we saw with marriage equality, Vice President Biden is sometimes the person who will preview a presidential decision,” National Gay and Lesbian Task Force spokesman Mark Daley told the Washington Blade. “So let’s hope his most recent comments means that a nondiscrimination executive order is imminent from President Obama.”
“Perhaps this is a sign that the administration is finally moving in that direction,” AmericaBlog editor John Aravosis told the paper. “It’s also possibly a sign that Biden is being Biden and saying something out of school. I think we always need more fuel — clearly, the administration hasn’t done the executive order, and until they do, we need more fuel.”
White House officials did not respond to the Blade’s request for comment, and Obama and his spokespeople have consistently argued that the preferred route to LGBT employment protection is through federal legislation, passing the Employment Non-Discrimination Act. The Senate approved ENDA last year, but it has not come to a vote in the House of Representatives. House Speaker John Boehner has called the legislation unnecessary and said it has no chance of passage in his chamber this year.