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Allies Urge Barack Obama to Go It Alone on Causes

Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo
Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin said the White House is considering executive orders on issues such as the DREAM Act because of gridlock in Congress.

Gay rights groups, meanwhile, have been pressing the Obama administration for an order banning LGBT discrimination by federal contractors. And there have also been rumblings about an executive order applying pieces of the filibustered pay equity bill to contractors as well. So far, the White House has resisted.

Press Secretary Jay Carney has faced repeated questioning on the LGBT executive order, including after Exxon Mobil Corp. shareholders recently rejected anti-discrimination protections for its workers. He said the White House remains focused on a legislative strategy to pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act. Carney repeatedly pointed to the success of repealing “don’t ask, don’t tell,” which happened in the 2010 lame-duck session after the White House resisted calls for executive orders. Advocates, however, have noted that the DADT repeal happened when the president enjoyed big majorities in both chambers. ENDA, on the other hand, is going nowhere in the current divided Congress.

They contend that, in the meantime, Obama could take an important step to ban discrimination by contractors, which include numerous major businesses from coast to coast.

And before last week’s vote on the pay equity bill, senior Obama adviser Valerie Jarrett rejected consideration of an executive order on pay equity on a conference call with reporters.

“Our efforts right now are devoted to getting this act passed,” she said then. “There is no interest right now in talking about a fallback.”

The strategy has been a contrast to the “We Can’t Wait” campaign on economic issues, where Obama has announced numerous executive initiatives aimed at creating jobs. But the White House has been somewhat more cautious when it comes to executive orders on social issues. That’s not to say that it hasn’t issued any — indeed, protecting the president’s executive orders has been a priority of the White House as it fights GOP policy riders during the annual spending bills.

Several liberal lawmakers, however, say Obama would help his constituencies by acting more on his own.

“Slow isn’t working,” said Rep. Lynn Woolsey (D-Calif.), a liberal who has long complained of a too-cautious White House. “These groups need to know that there is support for them. The time for not ruffling feathers is past. It’s not worked. It’s time to ruffle feathers and show the people that support this White House that he supports them.”

Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), co-chairman of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, said, “We would far prefer that they move forward and vindicate people’s rights as soon as possible.” He noted that when Obama came out for marriage equality, it helped, not hurt, and that his base would like to see more.

“You can have tepid support or you can have enthusiastic support, and we can use all we can,” Ellison said.

It’s not a question of progressives voting for presumptive GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney, it’s a question of them voting at all, advocates of a more aggressive White House said.

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