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.