July 29, 2010 at 4:25 pm EDT | by Chris Johnson
ENDA blame game underway

LGBT activists targeted Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) last week, urging him to advance ENDA. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Democratic senators are blaming Republican obstructionism for the Senate’s failure to advance the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, but others say a lack of strategy is preventing a vote.

The plight of ENDA in the Senate received renewed attention last week when GetEqual staged a protest in Las Vegas blocking traffic on Las Vegas Boulevard and demanding Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) take action.

The legislation, stalled in the House and Senate, would prohibit job bias against LGBT people in most public and private workforce scenarios.

Democratic supporters say Republican opposition is preventing Senate action on the bill.

Assistant Majority Leader Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) said Democratic leadership wants to move forward with ENDA, but noted difficulties in moving any item on the legislative agenda forward.

“We have a tough time moving anything on the calendar because of Republican filibusters,” Durbin said.

Still, Durbin said a vote on the legislation in September after lawmakers return from August recess is “possible,” while adding that timeframe is a “pretty hectic period.” He noted that a vote would more likely come in the period following the November election.

Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), chair of the Senate Health, Education, Labor & Pensions Committee where ENDA is pending, on Tuesday expressed similar grievances about Republican obstructionism.

Asked what’s keeping the legislation from coming to a Senate vote, Harkin simply replied, “Republicans.”

“It’s one of my priority items,” Harkin said. “I’d like to move it, but [I’m] not certain we’re going to have the time.”

Harkin said he couldn’t immediately recall if any particular part of the measure was causing controversy and keeping it from coming to a Senate vote.

“There’s been a lot of objections by certain Republicans on it,” Harkin said. “As far as I’m concerned, they’re not legitimate. I couldn’t even enumerate them right now, I forget what they are.”

Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, also blamed Republicans for the failure to advance ENDA in the Senate. She also cited what she called a “general dysfunction” in the chamber as a problem.

“It’s certainly not all about ENDA,” she said. “It’s certainly, certainly not about transgender inclusion in ENDA. They can’t get campaign finance reform through, they can’t get, sometimes, job bills through.”

On Tuesday, Democratic leadership tried to move forward on a campaign finance reform bill known as the DISCLOSE Act. Republicans, who hold 41 of 100 seats in the chamber, were unified in their opposition and able to filibuster a motion to proceed with the legislation.

Still, ENDA is likely to fare better with Republicans in the Senate because the legislation has two GOP co-sponsors, Sens. Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe of Maine.

R. Clarke Cooper, executive director of the Log Cabin Republicans, dismissed the notion that Republicans were holding up ENDA in the Senate and said “only the current Senate majority leadership can truly answer” why ENDA isn’t on the calendar.

“Blaming the minority leadership for the majority’s disorganization and lack of planning this year is simplistic and, frankly, lazy,” Cooper said. “Both sides of the aisle are frustrated with the lack of activity.”

Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), the sponsor for ENDA in the Senate, is hoping House passage of ENDA would jumpstart interest in passing it in the Senate, according to his office.

“I think, at this point, it’s kind of something that we’re waiting for the House to pass to build a little momentum here in the Senate, and then hopefully get going on it here,” said Mike Westling, a Merkley spokesperson.

But in response to inquiries on why the House hasn’t moved forward with the bill, House leadership pointed to the lack of a strategy for ENDA in the Senate.

“We should encourage the Senate to develop a course for ENDA to ensure that when the House passes the legislation, the Senate can move quickly to send the legislation to the president’s desk,” Drew Hammill, a spokesperson for U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, earlier told the Blade.

Asked whether any discussions on a strategy to advance ENDA in the Senate have taken place, Durbin replied, “We have not reached that level.”

Harkin said he hadn’t yet done a whip count on the legislation and wasn’t sure whether the legislation would have 60 votes to pass.

“I just know that initial inquiries about getting a time limit on it were unfruitful,” he said. “So, without a time limit, we’re not going to bring anything up.”

Harkin said Senate leadership is “always looking” for other bills that could serve as a vehicle to move ENDA forward as an amendment, but didn’t name any potential legislation.

Chris Johnson is Chief Political & White House Reporter for the Washington Blade. Johnson attends the daily White House press briefings and is a member of the White House Correspondents' Association. Follow Chris

  • Nancy Pelosi and Barney Frank are pathetic and need to go. These idiots have a huge Democratic majority in the House — supported by Gay campaign contributions — but they can’t get their act together to pass ENDA. Over 75 percent of the American people support extending job protection to LGBT people. We need to vote these dopes out of office and support candidates who can get the job done.

    • Rubbish! The fact of the matter is, the Democrats don’t have the 60 votes required to break a Republican filibuster against ENDA — Log Cabin Republicans’ R. Clarke Cooper’s denials notwithstanding.

      Let’s not kid ourselves: As long as Senate Republicans have the 41 votes to block legislation with filibusters, ENDA’s going nowhere. Do the math. The Senate Dems don’t have the votes to pass it — period.

  • Yes, I agree the Dems have been squandering a unique situation when they have a majority in the House to pass ENDA. They wasted the entire past year on doing nothing but healthcare reform saying ENDA had to wait for that to pass first before anything could be done. Now it’s because DADT legislation is up first and that has to be voted on before ENDA gets a chance. Can’t Nacy Pelosi and the Dems walk and chew gum at the same time? Once the November elections come and pass, a probably GOP majority will never allow ENDA to come up for a vote.

    It’s not surprising that the GOP would obstruct our community’s legislation. That’s business as usual. But it’s a huge disappointment that the Dems have consistently put ENDA on the backburning for always so-called more urgent legislation. Nancy Pelosi’s blind eye on the matter. Enough excuses.

  • These heterosexual Democrats who claim to be allies of the LGBT community are acting just plain stupid. They seem to have time to talk about illegal aliens and helping them, but protecting LGBTs from simple job discrimination is just not important enough for them to even do a whip count or discuss it among themselves as to how to pass the darn bill. THEY HAVE THE 60 VOTES IN THE SENATE. We’ve got the 2 independents, and at least 2 moderate republicans (who knows if Sen. Brown will join them), and yet the democrats can’t get this done??? If ENDA is not the law come Nov. 2012, I’m not voting Obama back into office. ENDA should be even easier to pass than a repeal of DADT and yet the disorganized democrats without any real leadership from Obama can’t even get it done while they waste their time on climate change bills, 9/11 bills, and a bunch of other crap that doesn’t have a prayer. Thanks Democrats, you’ve just proven you’re as dysfunctional in leading this country as republicans.!

  • You all assume that majorities make it easy… but that is not the case, clearly. If we are to believe that 75% of the country is for this than it would pass but that is not the case.

    I said it before and I will say it again. Drop the T and it passes.

    Sorry but that is the world we are in today.

    Its is not their turn.

  • After all, T’s weren’t included in DADT and DOMA repeal, and look how easy it was to get them through. Oh wait….

    Transphobia is something that’s not a straight monopoly. For some, any excuse will do, and dropping the Ts is not a bug, it’s a desirable feature.

  • @Frankie, your facts are completely ficticious no way in hell are we dropping our T brothers and sisters, but I’m all for dropping you worthless sellouts, The votes are there. Harry is just putting his job over ours and his buddy Nan is enabling him.

    • Sorry, Wendy, but the sad fact is, the political climate for transgenders is still frozen in the 1970s — and will likely remain frozen in the ’70s until more transgenders come out of the closet — including HETEROSEXUAL transgenders.

  • R. Clarke Cooper needs to stop making excuses for homophobic and transphobic Republicans.

  • @Frankie – Drop gays in the military (which benefits an infinitessimally small portion of even non-trans gays and lesbians) and drop gay marriage (which is not something that even all non-trans gays and lesbians who are in relationships, much less single ones, want) and ENDA will pass.

    See, that was easy.

  • I agree… You see not all of us need this protection.

    I go to work to work, am well respected, valued, and highly paid. Most know I am gay but I don’t need protection, I do my job.

    Hey keep it in there… maybe next time right…

  • I agree that it is shameful that Dems that have congress and the presidency and can’t fullfill basic non-discrimination promises. It ain’t gonna get better after November. It’s time Pelosi called a roll call vote in the House so that can see which Dems sell us out and so that we know who to no longer give money to support. If they don’t call the vote it’s time to stop giving any Dems money! I live in SF and Pelosi is our rep. More LGBT people vote for her than anyone else anywhere else in the country and she can’t give us the dignity of calling for a vote and holding the party accountable! I am kicking myself for not running against her this year. The Prop8 anger and now this is palpable in SF and this year would have been the year to take on the establishment. This proves that blindly voting DEM is not the correct strategy.

  • Frankie: The poster child for Queer Channel Media’s outside-of-reality-looking-in target demographic.

  • I agree, drop the T. Sorry but it’s not their time yet, why should we LGB suffer workplace discrimination any longer than needed? Drop the T, pass ENDA and let’s work for the T later. It happened here in NY, when they dropped the T, employment protections easily passed. Now they are fighting for get T but it keeps failing. Let us get ENDA passed now!

  • Don’t worry so much. I predict the out come of the mid terms to be 289 democratic house members and 63 Senate Dems plus Bernie Sanders (Lieberman doesn’t count)

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