Amid renewed attention to the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, a total of five Democratic senators have so far declined to co-sponsor the legislation.
During a Pride reception at the White House last week, President Obama gave ENDA a boost when he said “we need to get” the legislation passed. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) broke with tradition when he signed as a co-sponsor of the bill immediately afterward.
Just last week, Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.), a conservative Democrat who voted against expanded background checks for gun sales, signed on as a co-sponsor. The office of Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.) confirmed to the Washington Blade on Monday he’ll also sign on in support of the bill.
But five Democrats in the Senate still aren’t co-sponsors of the legislation: Sens. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), Mark Pryor (D-Ark.), Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) and Tim Johnson (D-S.D.).
A spokesperson for Sen. Nelson said he is traveling today and unavailable for immediate comment. The other four offices didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.
Tico Almeida, president of Freedom to Work, said there’s “simply no valid excuse” for any Democratic senator to withhold their support for ENDA as a full Senate vote on the legislation approaches.
“If any of these senators vote ‘no’ on ENDA, they will betray our American values of fairness and equal opportunity and they will turn their backs on hardworking gay and transgender citizens who simply want a fair shot to hold a job in a really tough economy,” Almeida said.
Four of these Democrats — Nelson, Rockefeller, Johnson, Pryor — voted for “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal in 2010. Manchin didn’t vote on the bill, but later said withholding the vote was “wrong.”
Their support could be needed quickly if, as promised by Reid in his Pride statement, the floor vote on ENDA comes up “soon.” Senate Health, Education, Labor & Pensions Committee Chair Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) is expected to report the legislation out of committee this summer.
Almeida called for action from the Democratic National Committee and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee to persuade these five senators to declare their support for ENDA and make clear a vote in favor of the bill is ”a bedrock principle for all Democrats in good standing.”
“It would also be great if President Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, and the White House legislative team got in the game by aggressively lobbying these hold-out Democrats in the weeks and months to come,” Almeida said. “In fact, President Obama could set a good example for the hold-out Democrats by signing his long overdue executive order, which is not ‘hypothetical’ no matter what some staffers want to pretend.”
Notably, Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) is an ENDA co-sponsor even though she’s one of three U.S. Senate Democrats who have not come out in support of marriage equality. The other two are Manchin and Pryor.
Assuming all 54 senators in the Democratic caucus vote for ENDA, a total of six additional Republicans would be needed for 60 votes to end the likely filibuster of the legislation on the Senate floor. Two Republicans are already co-sponsors: Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Mark Kirk (R-Ill.).
The additional Republicans who are seen as the most likely supporters are Sens. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), Jeffery Chiesa (R-N.J.), Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), Richard Burr (R-N.C.) and Dean Heller (R-Nev.).
Portman came out for marriage equality earlier this year after learning his son is gay. During an interview at a Buzzfeed Brews Event in May, Portman said he “totally support[s] the concept” of ENDA, but has concerns about “litigation that could result” and “religious freedom.”
Jeffrey Sadosky, a Portman spokesperson, expressed a similar sentiment on the Ohio Republican’s views on ENDA in an email to the Blade on Monday.
“Senator Portman is strongly opposed to discrimination and is looking at proposals to address it,” Sadosky said. “He is concerned about excessive reliance on litigation as a tool for social change, and will continue to review the most recent version of ENDA.”
Murkowski and Burr were two Republicans who voted for “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal in 2010. But while Murkowski voted for cloture and to pass the measure, Burr only voted for final passage and withheld his vote for cloture.
Chiesa comes from a traditionally “blue” state that already has a statewide law prohibiting LGBT employment non-discrimination. He hasn’t yet articulated a position on ENDA.
Flake, a relative newcomer to the Senate, is also contender to support ENDA because as U.S. House member, he voted for a version of the legislation that came to the House floor in 2007 (although he also voted for the motion to recommit, which would have killed the bill). Still, Flake recently took an anti-gay position when he said he’d abandon comprehensive immigration reform if a provision for bi-national same-sex couples was included in the bill.
Heller is also a relative newcomer to the Senate, but also in play because he represents a moderate state and twice voted in favor of LGBT-inclusive reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act.
Gregory Angelo, executive director of Log Cabin Republicans, said his organization has been working to lobby Republicans — moderates and conservatives alike — to support ENDA. He declined to comment on the content of the talks.
“In the realm of lobbying, the Log Cabin Republicans mantra is to leave no stone unturned,” Angelo said. “I’m constantly on the Hill outlining our reasons of support for ENDA, both among Republican members of the Senate and members of the House. This isn’t about going after moderates but about making the case to common-sense conservatives that no one should be fired from their job because they happen to be gay.”
Another issue is the upcoming special election for the U.S. Senate seat in Massachusetts on June 25. The winner of that race will likely vote on ENDA instead of the interim U.S. Sen. William Maurice “Mo” Cowan.
Both candidates have expressed support for the bill. But the Democratic candidate, Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), is a co-sponsor of ENDA in the House. The Republican candidate, Gabriel Gomez, came out in support of ENDA in a statement provided to the Washington Blade by his campaign last week.