October 28, 2013 | by Chris Johnson
Reid to set up ENDA vote before Thanksgiving
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) is set to announce he'll bring ENDA to floor this Thanksgiving (Blade file photo by Michael Key).

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) is set to announce he’ll bring ENDA to floor this Thanksgiving (Blade file photo by Michael Key).

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) announced on the Senate floor Monday that he’ll bring up the Employment Non-Discrimination Act for a vote before Thanksgiving.

In his first remarks following a short recess, Reid said the bill, which would prohibit anti-LGBT bias in the workforce, would be among the items the Senate will take up during the four-week work period.

“We’re going to consider the act known as ENDA,” Reid said, adding that it “failed in the House of Representatives before, but we’re going to take it up here again.”

Adam Jentleson, a Reid spokesperson, said the exact floor timing “remains to be determined based on how votes go this week,” but a vote on the long pursued legislation to prohibit anti-LGBT job bias could come up as early as next week.

Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), chief sponsor of ENDA, praised Reid in a statement for the decision to bring ENDA to the floor in the coming weeks.

“I thank Majority Leader Reid for committing to bring ENDA to the floor this work period. Americans understand that it’s time to make sure our LGBT friends and family are treated fairly and have the same opportunities,” Merkley said. “Now it’s time for our laws to catch up. People should be judged at work on their ability to do the job, period.”

The Senate Health, Education, Labor & Pensions Committee reported out ENDA on bipartisan basis in July by a 15-7 vote. Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), an original co-sponsor of the bill, and Sens. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) joined all 12 Democratic members of the committee in voting in favor of the legislation.

The legislation is unlikely to proceed to the floor by unanimous consent, so 60 votes will be necessary to end a filibuster. That hurdle is higher than the 54 senators who currently sponsor the bill.

Fred Sainz, vice president of communications for the Human Rights Campaign, expressed gratitude that Reid is poised to bring the bill to floor vote and said 60 votes are within sight.

“We’re gratified that Senator Reid is bringing this important bill to the floor,” Reid said. “Over the course of the past six months, we’ve worked hard to ensure that senators know their constituents support this bill. We’re in the homestretch of securing the 60 votes necessary and remain optimistic that the support will be there when we need it.”

Tico Almeida, president of Freedom to Work, was more bullish and said 60 votes are already present on the floor to pass ENDA.

“We’re ready for a winning vote,” Almeida said. “After months of Republican outreach led by our Legislative Director Christian Berle and teamed with Log Cabin Republicans, we’re confident we have the 60 votes to defeat any attempted filibuster.”

The goal of finding 60 votes to pass ENDA in the Senate is a small hurdle in comparison to finding sufficient support for passing the bill in the House, where Republican control will make passage daunting to say the least.

Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, expressed gratitude that a Senate vote on ENDA would take place, but suggested that a House vote will have to come at later time when the makeup is different.

“Because of all the work people have done over th­­e years at the grassroots level and on Capitol Hill, we’re optimistic that the Senate vote will go our way,” Keisling said. “The forthcoming Senate vote will change the playing field once we have a friendlier House that can tackle ENDA.”

Advocacy groups have been ramping up their efforts on ENDA in expectations that a Senate vote on the bill would take place sometime this fall. The most prominent among them is Obama’s political arm, Organizing for Action.

Last week, Organizing for Action held a conference call with supporters and Matt McTighe, campaign manager for Americans for Workplace Opportunity, to discuss the legislation. The organization has also sent out to email blasts to supporters asking them to let the senators know that backing ENDA “is about standing up for what’s right.”

Ben Finkenbinder, an OFA spokesperson, said his organization is helping to pass ENDA because it’s about making sure all Americans have equal opportunity in the workplace.

“OFA is working to make sure Americans know what is at stake in the ENDA fight, ensuring all Americans who work hard have a fair shot — which means every American having the same protections in the workplace, no matter who they are or whom they love,” Finkenbinder said.

With the exception of three lawmakers, every Democrat in the Senate is an ENDA co-sponsor. The three holdouts are Sens. Mark Pryor (D-Ark.), Joe Manchin (D-W.V.) and Bill Nelson (D-Fla.). Additional Republicans that Log Cabin has said could support the bill are Sens. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.), Dean Heller (R-Nev.), Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) and Pat Toomey (R-Pa.).

According to a Friday report in the Washington Post, Cindy McCain has also engaged in lobbying efforts to encourage her husband Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) to back ENDA. She signed a postcard from the Human Rights Campaign urging her husband to support the bill.

The Post reported that HRC organizer John Gomez spotted Cindy McCain at a Staples in Arizona. After talking with her about ENDA, Cindy McCain said she shared her support for the bill, signing the postcard and addressed it to her husband, according to the Post.

Freedom to Work’s Almeida said his organization has been pursuing Latino voters in efforts to encourage senators in Florida, Arizona in Nevada, which have significant Latino populations, to support the legislation.

“Last week we launched phone-banking to thousands of registered Latino voters in Arizona and Nevada asking them to patch-through to Senators McCain, Flake and Heller to urge them to vote ‘yes,’” Almeida said. “We’re using bilingual call centers and the same parameters for Latino voter lists that national Latino organizations used earlier this year to flood the Senate with calls in favor of immigration reform.”

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

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