House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) entertained on Saturday the idea of a discharge petition for the Employment Non-Discrimination Act — but was skeptical the bill has the votes for passage in the U.S. House.
Pelosi made the remarks in San Jose, Calif., during Netroots Nation, an annual conference for progressive bloggers and activists, when questioned about an ENDA discharge petition by panel moderator and political analyst Zerlina Maxwell.
“We can do discharge, but we don’t have enough votes to pass it,” Pelosi said. “So that means we have to have mobilization outside from some of our Republican friends, who should think that this is a form discrimination that we should be getting rid of. But this is certainly the next order of business for us.”
Initially, Pelosi in her lengthy response talked about the LGBT accomplishments between 2009 and 2010 when Democrats were in control of Congress and the White House, such as passage of hate crimes protections legislation and “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal.
Pelosi said the initial plan was to proceed with ENDA, but the order was changed to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” first before the 111th Congress expired because that was what the “community” wanted.
“The community came to us and they said, ‘We feel more enthusiasm for your doing the repeal of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ first — well, second, because we had done hate crimes, now ENDA would be next,” Pelosi said. “They said, no, we wanted ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.’ And that, because we have to depend on outside mobilization and all the rest, and, of course, all four — that would be hate crimes, that would be ENDA, that would ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,’ that would be marriage equality — would be the four. We were trying to do them in the order of how we thought we could get them done fastest. We thought ENDA; they thought ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ repeal.”
Pelosi expressed enthusiasm for ENDA, saying it should be “the next order of business for us” and “we’ll do everything we possibly can” to pass the legislation.
However, Pelosi also said “bathrooms” has been an issue for the legislation, although she said that issue could have an easy fix.
“What it comes down to in some of the debate is bathrooms,” Pelosi said. “I’m just telling you honestly what some of the debate is about on that subject because if you have everybody there and ENDA is the law, and you are not discriminating, then who uses what John? Just put a unisex sign on the John and get this thing over with, right? What’s the problem?”
Tico Almeida, president of Freedom to Work, expressed displeasure with Pelosi’s response, but said it’s a good sign that she didn’t rule out the possibility of a discharge petition.
“Unfortunately, Leader Pelosi launched a long and winding filibuster and avoided making any concrete commitment to lead on our community’s proposed ENDA discharge petition in 2013,” Almeida said. “But she did not rule out this bold strategy either, and we are hopeful she will agree eventually.”
A successful discharge petition would bring ENDA to the House floor regardless of whether Republican leaders like House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) or House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) want to keep it from a vote. For a discharge petition to succeed, a majority of House members, or 218, have to sign it.
That’s 42 more names than the current 176 lawmakers who currently sponsor in the House. The last time a discharge petition succeeded was 11 years ago in 2002 for campaign finance reform legislation known as McCain–Feingold in the Senate.
Nonetheless, Almeida was optimistic that a discharge petition would be a strategy that would yield positive results if pursued.
“Just a few months ago, House Democrats launched a discharge petition for the Paycheck Fairness Act, and that’s already gotten around 200 signatures,” Almeida said. “We believe ENDA could get even more signatures on our proposed discharge petition, and we have a small shot at getting to 218. But in order to have a chance to win, the House Democrats have to first be willing to try.”
Freedom to Work promoted the idea of asking Pelosi about the ENDA discharge petition prior to the start of the panel by sending out the proposed question via Twitter using the hastag #AskPelosi. Among those who retweeted the proposal were PFLAG National, the TaskForce and Rick Jacobs of the Courage Campaign.
— Freedom to Work (@FreedomtoWork) June 22, 2013
As reported by other media outlets, Pelosi was also booed during the same session when she defended the recently revealed data collection policies under the Obama administration at the National Security Agency . The heckler wasn’t concerned about ENDA, but what a called a “secret law.”
Almeida said he’ll continue to pursue a discharge petition because attention will be on the lower chamber of Congress to pass ENDA if the Senate approves the legislation.
“Once we pass ENDA in the Senate this fall, with 60 or more bipartisan votes, the pressure will grow even stronger for House Democrats to launch the discharge petition in 2013,” Almeida said. “We spoke with several House Democrats about this strategy this weekend in San Jose, and I think there will be interest.”
Almeida declined to identify which House Democrats with whom he had spoke and which expressed interest in a discharge petition, but said these lawmakers wanted him to follow up next week.
With the Supreme Court decisions on the Defense of Marriage Act and California’s Proposition 8 expected next week, Almeida emphasized that LGBT workplace protections and marriage equality are both priorities worth pursuing.
“We will continue this campaign to make 2013 the year for progress not only on the freedom to marry, but also the freedom to work,” Almeida said. “We deserve both freedoms. We deserve full equality under law.”
CORRECTION: An initial version of the article, citing a transcript from the Northwest Pacific Progressive Institute, misquoted and mischaracterized Pelosi’s remarks on ENDA. The Blade regrets the error.