White House hedges on Equality Act

The White House isn’t ready to endorse the Equality Act. At least not yet.

The bill, which would amend the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to add corresponding protections for sexual orientation and gender identity, as well as add new protections in housing and other areas, has 209 Democratic co-sponsors — up from the 195 it had when it was introduced. But while the administration says they are supportive of the bill’s principles, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said yesterday that they are still reviewing the bill’s details before lending it their support.

As he said, quoted by Chris Johnson at the Washington Blade:

The White House, via Wikimedia Commons

The White House, via Wikimedia Commons

This is a piece of legislation that the White House does continue to review. There’s significant consequences to this bill going into effect. It has an impact on housing law and a variety of other policies in the federal government, so it’s something that’s still being carefully reviewed by the administration.

The president believes the passage of comprehensive legislation that protects LGBT Americans from discrimination would mark an important step toward that outcome…So, we would applaud the efforts of members of Congress to try to advance that goal, but when it comes to this specific piece of legislation, it’s something that is still under review by the administration.

Earnest did not specify which parts of the bill could prove to be problematic, or what specific issues would lead to the administration foreclosing on the possibility of endorsing it.

In a familiar fashion, the White House’s position on the Equality Act puts the president a step behind Vice President Biden, who said on Saturday that Congress “will pass” the bill in a speech at the Human Rights Campaign’s annual dinner on Saturday. Hillary Clinton has also expressed support for the bill.

There are a couple of reasons why the administration might be hedging its bets on the bill. Get EQUAL, for one, has expressed concerns that opening the Civil Rights Act up for amendments could allow congressional Republicans to weaken the protections currently on the books. The NAACP, likely for similar reasons, has yet to endorse the bill.

Regardless as to whether the administration shares these concerns, they could still use them as a reason to avoid spending political capital on an issue they don’t feel they can win. After all, the bill has practically no chance of passing in a Republican-controlled Congress. And with only one month left with John Boehner as Speaker of the House before an even more intransigent Republican takes his place, their chances of getting any legislative wins are already slim. So they may want to avoid sinking political capital into what they feel is a futile venture.


Jon Green graduated from Kenyon College with a B.A. in Political Science and high honors in Political Cognition. He worked as a field organizer for Congressman Tom Perriello in 2010 and a Regional Field Director for President Obama's re-election campaign in 2012. Jon writes on a number of topics, but pays especially close attention to elections, religion and political cognition. Follow him on Twitter at @_Jon_Green, and on Google+. .

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