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.