April 22, 2010 at 5:25 pm EDT | by Lou Chibbaro Jr.
ENDA votes needed from Reid, Baucus, Nelson

U.S. Sen. Ben Nelson supports efforts to ban employment discrimination based on sexual orientation, but it’s unclear whether he supports broadening such protections to include discrimination based on gender identity. (Photo courtesy of Nelson’s office)

At least three highly influential Democratic senators who became embroiled in the contentious fight over President Obama’s health care reform bill have yet to co-sponsor for the Employment Non-Discrimination Act.

But Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Sens. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) and Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) — each considered battled scarred over the health care fight — have expressed general support for legislation to ban employment discrimination based on sexual orientation.

Reid and Baucus voted for an earlier version of ENDA in 1996, when it lost in a close Senate vote, prompting LGBT lobbyists to express optimism over the two senators’ votes should ENDA come before the Senate this year.

Reid and Baucus have not taken a public stand on the gender identity provision in the current version of the bill, which would ban employment discrimination against transgender people.

Reid, who received a perfect rating of 100 from the Human Rights Campaign for the period of 2008-2009, is facing a tough re-election fight, with at least two possible Republican challengers leading in polls by double digits.

Last year, his spokesperson, Jim Manning, said Reid supports ENDA and would take steps to bring it to the Senate floor at the appropriate time.

Reid, Baucus and Nelson are among 16 Senate Democrats who haven’t co-sponsored ENDA and whose support is considered crucial to the bill’s passage.

Although HRC, which is leading the formal lobbying effort for ENDA, believes there are more than 50 senators poised to vote for the measure, the group acknowledges it’s uncertain whether supporters can garner the 60 votes needed to overcome an expected filibuster intended to kill the bill.

“I believe we have 53 or more votes for the bill itself,” said David Stacy, HRC’s deputy legislative director.

Stacy noted that 63 senators voted last year to break a filibuster for a hate crimes bill that included protections for gay and transgender people, enabling the bill to pass. The bill was the first congressionally passed civil rights legislation to protect gay and transgender people.

Stacy said HRC was hopeful, but uncertain whether 60 senators could be lined up to break an ENDA filibuster.

Nelson, like Reid and Baucus, has expressed general support for non-discrimination legislation based on sexual orientation. And he, too, voted for the trans-inclusive hate crimes bill.

Unlike Reid, Baucus and Nelson are not facing a re-election fight this year, another factor that activists hope will encourage them to support ENDA.

Baucus’ Montana colleague, Sen. John Tester (D-Mont.) also has not yet become an ENDA co-sponsor. His office did not respond to calls by press time seeking his position on the bill.

Similar to Baucus, Nelson and Reid, Tester has a mixed record on LGBT rights. He has expressed opposition to gay marriage but has said he opposes a U.S. constitutional amendment to ban it. Tester voted for the hate crimes bill last year.

Meanwhile, Sen. Kay Hagan (D-N.C.), another lawmaker not currently co-sponsoring ENDA, is among the Democrats that LGBT activists are hoping will come through with another needed vote on ENDA. Like the other senators, she has expressed general support for LGBT equality but declined to sign on as an ENDA co-sponsor.

“I think she would probably vote for it,” said Hastings Wyman, editor of Southern Political Report, an authoritative newsletter about politics in the South. “She voted for health care and she has another four years before she comes up for re-election.”

The offices of Baucus, Tester, Nelson, and Hagan did not return calls seeking their current positions on ENDA.

Lou Chibbaro Jr. has reported on the LGBT civil rights movement and the LGBT community for more than 30 years, beginning as a freelance writer and later as a staff reporter and currently as Senior News Reporter for the Washington Blade. He has chronicled LGBT-related developments as they have touched on a wide range of social, religious, and governmental institutions, including the White House, Congress, the U.S. Supreme Court, the military, local and national law enforcement agencies and the Catholic Church. Chibbaro has reported on LGBT issues and LGBT participation in local and national elections since 1976. He has covered the AIDS epidemic since it first surfaced in the early 1980s. Follow Lou

1 Comment
  • Got you covered, DC Agenda! Good work on this Senate reporting – this is going to be key to winning the Senate which I know we can do if we are smart and targeting in our advocacy. Here’s some info from my public whip count, which all can find online at http://bit.ly/14TDll

    As noted in the “info” column of the spreadsheet:

    Senator Reid has publicly expressed strong support for the current version of ENDA per Joe Sudbay 8-6-09 http://bit.ly/8DA1f.

    Senator Tester also expressed support for the current version of the bill on 8-6-09, when he confirmed it in a letter to a constituent, Roberta T (see http://bit.ly/r7qrO for confirmation). The same letter was received from another constituent, J. Toevs on 8/7/09.

    Likewise, Senator Baucus also sent a letter to Roberta T supporting the current version of ENDA on 9-15-09 (see http://bit.ly/xDdGk for confirmation)

    Senator Ben Nelson’s office confirmed his support for the current version to his constituent Tyler Richard on 7-7-09; voted for hate crimes

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