Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) is maintaining that passage of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act is still on track in the U.S. House, although he said he’s “less sure” about the bill’s prospects in the Senate.
In a DC Agenda interview, Frank on Tuesday said lawmakers working on the bill were about to come to agreement on the legislation before inclement weather last week shut down the federal government.
“We were very close just before we snowed out to basically come to an agreement on a bill that would get a majority vote in the Education & Labor Committee,” he said.
Frank said he’s still anticipating the committee to markup ENDA this month and a floor vote on the bill this March.
“The speaker has promised me that as soon as it passes the committee, she’ll bring it up to the floor of the House,” Frank said.
The lawmaker said he’s been working on ENDA closely with Chairman George Miller (D-Calif.), whom Frank said has been “very supportive” on the legislation, as well as a coalition of organizations including transgender groups.
Still, Frank said the transgender protections were among the sticking points in negotiations on how to proceed.
“There has always been a problem with the question of people who are transgender in situations where people are totally or partially unclothed,” he said.
While expecting movement in the House, Frank was less certain about ENDA’s prospects in the Senate.
“I’m less sure about that,” he said. “I think people have often underestimated some of the difficulties.”
Multiple sources familiar with Capitol Hill have told DC Agenda that 60 votes are lacking in the Senate to overcome a filibuster on ENDA.
Frank said it’s possible that newly elected Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.) could vote in favor of the legislation, although Frank said he doesn’t know the senator’s position.
Supporters of ENDA, Frank said, could most effectively push for passage by lobbying their senators on the legislation.
On repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” Frank said he hopes Congress will this year move ahead with legislation.
The lawmaker was an early advocate of including repeal this year as part of the upcoming defense authorization bill.
“I hope we will move ahead,” he said. “My understanding is [Congressman] Patrick Murphy said we plan to move ahead and I think Carl Levin does, too.”
Asked whether President Obama has provided Congress with a clear path on moving forward with repeal, Frank said the White House has been “muddled about when we should move.”
“I do hope in the next couple weeks, he’ll make it clear that he wants us to act this year as well legislatively,” he said.
Frank said Obama on the other hand deserves credit for “cleaning up the policy” in a new plan of implementation that will apparently prevent the discharges of gay service members who are outed by third parties.
“He made great efforts to get the defense establishment on board,” Frank said. “That was hard to do, and he got them on board and that was important.”
Frank said he thinks Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Michael Mullen’s congressional testimony on favor of open service was “one of the best anti-bigotry statements we’ve ever gotten.”
But Pentagon leaders said they are undertaking a review of implementing repeal that would take until the year’s end for completion, and a number of lawmakers have said they want to hear from the Pentagon before committing to repeal.
Still, Frank said lawmakers can pass repeal now as part of defense authorization because it would take seven or eight months for implementation.
“They’ll have still some months to implement it because it’ll take that much time for the bill to pass,” Frank said.