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White House: Olympic delegation sends message on US 'diversity'

United States Olympics
Tennis champion Billie Jean King is introduced during a town hall conversation hosted by the group Women for Hillary in New York. The White House says King and U.S. Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul will join the opening ceremony delegation. (AP/Jason DeCrow)

White House press secretary Jay Carney on Wednesday dodged questions about whether President Obama was sending a message about Russian anti-gay rights laws by tapping two openly gay athletes for the U.S. Olympic delegation.

Carney said only that the Olympic delegation which will attend the opening and closing ceremonies of the 2014 Sochi Winter Games in Russia highlighted the “diversity” of the United States.

The White House announced on Tuesday that the delegation will be led by former Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and includes two openly gay athletes, including tennis star Billie Jean King.

The highest ranking administration officials in the group are deputy chief of staff Rob Nabors and Ambassador to Russia Michael McCaul.

Carney said that neither Obama or Vice President Joe Biden were able to fit the Sochi Games into their travel schedule.

The delegation was widely viewed as a snub to Russian President Vladimir Putin, with whom Obama has clashed on a number of issues, and the selection of gay athletes was seen as a protest against a law passed by Russian legislators banning gay “propaganda.”

Carney said the president is “very proud of the delegation and the diversity it represents.”

“We’re proud of each and every one of them and think they will serve as great ambassadors,” said Carney. “This delegation represents the diversity that is the United States, every member of the a delegation is accomplished.”

He added that Obama “looks forward to the competition” and will be rooting for America’s athletes.

Carney said the administration has made it clear that it disagrees with Russia’s anti-gay rights laws well before the selection of the president’s delegation.

“That’s not a message we would wait to send through this manner,” said Carney. “The president has been very clear that he finds it offensive, the anti-LGBT legislation in Russia.”

“We take a very clear and strong stand on that issue,” he continued “as well as the curtailing of civil liberties in Russia.”

Carney said the administration is “very upfront” about the disagreements they have with Russia.