Officials from several advocacy groups in touch with the White House said Thursday that they did not know what White House officials had in mind for building support — particularly in a Republican-led House not considered favorable turf for gay-rights issues.
Tico Almeida, founder of the advocacy group Freedom to Work, which is coordinating with Lewis, called Obama’s decision a “political calculation that cannot stand.”
Almeida, who attended the meeting with Jarrett and Munoz at the White House along with representatives from the Human Rights Campaign and the Center for American Progress, said he pushed back against administration arguments that the executive order could be challenged successfully in court. He said Jarrett and Munoz voiced concern that a conservative business might sue if Obama signed the order, and that he told them years of case law suggested the administration would win any legal battle.
“They seemed to be grasping clumsily for a reason to delay,” said Almeida, a lawyer who previously helped draft the nondiscrimination legislation as a House staffer.
Advocates in recent weeks have showered White House officials with data to make their case — academic studies showing that discrimination costs businesses money, surveys of small businesses showing they agree with protections, and polls showing vast majorities of likely 2012 voters favoring a nondiscrimination policy for contractors.
Supporters of the executive order, including dozens of House Democrats who signed a letter to Obama this month, argue the move would protect an additional 16 million workers not already covered by existing corporate policies or state laws. They say LGBT workers suffer discrimination at a disproportionately high rate. The protection would add to an existing executive order prohibiting discrimination based on race, religion, sex and national origin.
“Employers who do discriminate certainly should not be rewarded with taxpayer-funded government contracts,” said Rea Carey, executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force and a participant in Wednesday’s meeting.
Some of the research supporting an executive order was presented by the Center for American Progress, a think tank that is closely aligned with the White House but took the unusual step Wednesday of issuing a press release expressing disappointment with Obama.
“This is an administration that has advanced LGBT equality in historic ways. Our disappointment cannot erase that,” said Winnie Stachelberg, an executive vice president at CAP. She added: “We won’t stop advocating for the president to issue this executive order.”
Fred Sainz, a spokesman for the Human Rights Campaign, said the group would “continue to advocate, to educate, to push and to prod” until Obama changes his mind.
Staff writer David Nakamura contributed to this report.