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White House Plays Down LGBT Rights Message Of Sochi Delegation Picks

Jonathan Ernst / Reuters

WASHINGTON — White House Press Secretary Jay Carney on Wednesday downplayed the intended effect of sending one of the first out LGBT athletes in the U.S. to Russia, which implemented anti-LGBT laws over the past year, as part of the presidential delegation to the Winter Olympics.

Asked in the press briefing Wednesday afternoon whether the presidential delegation — which includes tennis star Billie Jean King, as well as hockey player Caitlin Cahow, both of whom are out and have commented on Russia’s anti-LGBT laws in the past — is intended to send a message on gay rights, Carney demurred repeatedly.

“I would simply say that that’s not a message we would wait to send through this manner,” Carney said, at the same time noting that the delegation shows “the remarkable diversity of the United States” and adding that Obama finds the anti-LGBT Russian laws “offensive.”

First, NBC’s Chuck Todd asked about the delegation, initially prompting Carney to repeat the statement previously provided to BuzzFeed by spokesman Shin Inouye. Then, Todd asked specifically whether the move was aimed at sending a message on gay rights:

QUESTION: Is there a message that you’re trying to send on gay rights, in particular?

CARNEY: I think that this delegation represents the diversity that is the United States. Every member of that delegation is extremely accomplished, either in government service or in civic activism, or, most especially, in sports.

So he’s very proud of the delegation and the diversity it represents, and he looks forward, as every American does, to the competition and to the effort that American athletes will demonstrate when they compete in Sochi.

QUESTION: I understand that. But would you wave off the interpretation that clearly the United States and — and the Obama administration wants to send a message about Russia’s questionable treatment of gay…


CARNEY: I don’t think we need to — I would simply say that that’s not a message we would wait to send through this manner. We have been very clear — the president has been very clear that he finds it offensive, the anti-LGBT legislation in Russia, for example. And we take very clear and strong stands on that issue, as well as the curtailment of civil society in Russia, as well as the harassment caused to those who protest corruption in Russia. And these — you know, the issues we have with Russia, that we are very upfront about, and that includes…

QUESTION: But you want — you want this delegation to bring some attention to these issues.

CARNEY: Look, I think that this delegation brings attention to the remarkable diversity of the United States, as well as the success that the United States has had in sports, both at the Olympics and beyond. It is also a demonstration of high-level success in civic activism, as well as in government service. And the president’s proud to have this delegation both to the opening and to the closing ceremonies represent our nation and our government at — at a games that will obviously, as they always do, have the attention of the world.

Later, ABC News’s Jonathan Karl followed up:

QUESTION: Just quickly following up on the Olympics. I mean, you’re not suggesting that there was not a message sent here with the…


CARNEY: Well, I’m suggesting that in the selection of this delegation, we are sending the message that the United States is a diverse place. And this delegation represents that diversity, not because of the issues that — on which we disagree with Russia alone, but because of the remarkable accomplishments of every individual in that delegation.

QUESTION: I mean, the highest-ranking government official in this delegation is a deputy chief of staff.

CARNEY: Well, there is a former cabinet secretary, the homeland security cabinet secretary who is also now in a very big job as head of I think the largest…


QUESTION: … vice president, the first lady. I mean, you had to be thinking about — were you thinking of the so-called gay propaganda law when you were — when the White House was putting together this delegation? CARNEY: Look, I think that we, as I said earlier, have made no bones about the fact that we strongly oppose and are offended by the anti-LGBT legislation in Russia. We’ve made very clear, have not pulled any punches in talking about the fact that we expect Russia to conduct Olympic Games in Sochi that demonstrate full respect and regard for the participants in those games, from all over the world and from all walks of life.

CARNEY: And I think that the purpose of any delegation to the games is to showcase the strengths of the country sending the delegation, and that’s what this delegation does.

QUESTION: Would the president encourage members of this delegation to publicly express their disapproval of Russia’s anti-gay policy at the opening ceremonies?

CARNEY: The president has publicly expressed his disapproval of those policies. I don’t expect that this delegation will comport itself any differently than previous delegations have or that delegations are expected to comport themselves.

The selection reflects the diversity of this country, the strength of this country, the brilliance and success of our athletes as well as the nature of our civic activism and government service. So the president’s very proud to have the two delegations, both the one to the opening ceremonies and the one to the closing ceremonies to represent the United States government in Sochi.

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