October 30, 2013 | by Chris Johnson
Pelosi envisions path for House passage of ENDA

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said she hopes ENDA could pass the House in a way similar to VAWA (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key).

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said she hopes ENDA could pass the House in a way similar to VAWA (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key).

Amid expectations the Senate will vote next week on the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) is a envisioning path for passage of the bill in her chamber of Congress despite Republican control.

During her routine news conference on Wednesday, Pelosi said she’s hoping for a situation on ENDA similar to what happened when the House passed reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act earlier this year.

“We made it too hot to handle in the public,” Pelosi said. “It had to come to the floor. Even so, a majority of the Republicans voted against the Violence Against Women Act. But nonetheless, it came to the floor. I hope we could have a similar situation with this.”

Asked to clarify whether VAWA reauthorization could be a model for House passage of ENDA, Pelosi called for expedited movement of the legislation in her chamber.

“Well, I would think it would be “once burned, twice learned,” and that they would, shall we say, save some time by taking it right to our committee and to the floor,” Pelosi said. “It’s really important. Our country – ending discrimination is what we are all about as Americans, and we should not have discrimination in the workplace because of gender identity.”

In February, the House, amid public pressure, passed the Senate measure to reauthorize VAWA, which contained protections for LGBT victims of domestic violence. It was the first and only time a bill with LGBT-specific language passed under the leadership of House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio).

House Republican leadership initially brought to the floor its own version of the bill without LGBT protections, but didn’t have enough votes in its own caucus to pass the measure. Afterward, House leaders brought to the floor the Senate version of the bill, which was approved unanimously by the House Democratic caucus along with 87 Republicans.

Pelosi said Wednesday the situation could be similar for ENDA after noting the significant cultural change on LGBT issues since 2007, when a gay-only version of ENDA was introduced on the House floor. The Democratic leader attributed this change to “the community’s” efforts.

“So I would hope that the public attitude, which I attribute to the community’s activism, outside mobilization, and just family awareness and respect for people to end discrimination, increases its prospects for now,” Pelosi said. “And, it will be interesting to see if in the Republican Party they want to see a continuation of discrimination in the workplace for people because of their gender identity.”

Notably, throughout her remarks, Pelosi twice explicitly mentioned the bill’s protections in employment based on gender identity, and never once mentioned sexual orientation. That’s significant because the House under her leadership moved forward a bill in 2007 that included protections based on sexual orientation, but omitted language for transgender people.

Small progress has been made on ENDA quietly in the House amid considerable attention about whether the bill will have enough votes to pass in the Senate.

In this week alone, the legislation has gained at least two new Republican co-sponsors following the initial news that ENDA would soon come to a floor vote in the Senate. According to “Thomas,” the website for the Library of Congress, Rep. Jon Runyan (R-N.J.) signed on as a co-sponsor on Monday.

Joining him on Wednesday were six additional co-sponsors. Among them are Raul Ruiz (D-Calif.), Nydia Velazquez (D-N.Y.), G.K. Butterfield (D-N.C.), Corrine Brown (D-Fla.) and William Owens (D-N.Y.).

Rep. Chris Gibson (R-N.Y.) on Wednesday also signed on as a co-sponsor to ENDA. He’s facing a challenge next year to his congressional seat from Sean Eldridge, a gay Democratic activist who’s married to Facebook co-founder and New Republic owner Chris Hughes.

Gregory Angelo, executive director of the National Log Cabin Republicans, called Gibson’s co-sponsorship of ENDA “welcome news indeed.”

“Cynics will say that this is all politics and precipitated by Sean Eldridge’s carpetbagging candidacy, but I know that this was a decision Congressman Gibson didn’t make lightly,” Angelo said. “A great deal of contemplation and consultation with Log Cabin Republicans and others in the GOP who know support for ENDA is prevalent and growing put Congressman Gibson on the right side of history here.”

Counting these new co-sponsors and chief sponsor of ENDA gay Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.), the legislation has a total of 194 supporters. That’s still 24 votes shy of the 218 votes necessary to pass ENDA in the House.

Tico Almeida, president of Freedom to Work, said he agrees with Pelosi that VAWA advocates ran an impressive campaign and that method could be applied to ENDA.

“Freedom to Work and other LGBT organizations with strong Republican connections should meet with Republican House leaders to urge them to drop the Hastert Rule as they did with LGBT-inclusive VAWA and allow a vote,” Almeida said. “Our Republican Legislative Director has already started on an impressive number of Republican House meetings.”

But Almeida said a VAWA-like strategy is one of three possible approaches to passing ENDA in the House. Others, as he’s previously already articulated, include a discharge petition, as proposed by McCain-Feingold author Trevor Potter, and attaching ENDA in the Senate to a larger bill for the House to pass.

“We should try all of the above strategies in the next year before the election,” Almeida said. “It’s not a choice. We should push on multiple fronts. We can only win if we’re willing to try.”

Drew Hammill, a Pelosi spokesperson, wouldn’t rule out any option as a possibility for passing ENDA in the House despite Republican control.

“As with any measure that passes the Senate and already enjoys bipartisan support in the House, all options remain on the table,” Hammill said.

A partial transcript of the exchange between Pelosi and reporters follows:

Reporter: Madam Leader, Leader Reid in the other body mentioned in the next couple of weeks he is going to try to bring up ENDA. I know this passed in the House in 2007. I think there were 10 Republicans who are still in the House who voted for it. Why do you think there would be any chance if it moved to this body – they think they might be within striking distance of 60 next door – why would they have any ability to move it here when they can’t even pass a farm bill? Why would they be interested in trying to move ENDA in this body in this political circumstance?

Leader Pelosi: Well, I believe a lot has changed since 2007 on this subject. We have seen – as we know, in 2010, we repealed the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy in the military. The Supreme Court has overturned the so-called euphemistically named Defense of Marriage Act. Thank God they overturned that and its name. And just generally, the public awareness and acceptance of ending discrimination in any way.

Some people think ENDA is ending discrimination in the workplace. Isn’t that a given in our country? Apparently not. And that’s why we have to pass the bill.

So I would hope that the public attitude, which I attribute to the community’s activism, outside mobilization, and just family awareness and respect for people to end discrimination, increases its prospects for now. And, it will be interesting to see if in the Republican Party they want to see a continuation of discrimination in the workplace for people because of their gender identity.

We had a problem with the Violence Against Women Act. They didn’t want to bring that to the floor. We made it too hot to handle in the public. It had to come to the floor. Even so, a majority of the Republicans voted against the Violence Against Women Act. But nonetheless, it came to the floor. I hope we could have a similar situation with this.

Reporter: Do you think you could use the model that was used for VAWA to make this ENDA bill “too hot to handle,” as you put it?

Pelosi: Well, I would think it would be “once burned, twice learned,” and that they would, shall we say, save some time by taking it right to our committee and to the floor. It’s really important. Our country – ending discrimination is what we are all about as Americans, and we should not have discrimination in the workplace because of gender identity.

UPDATE: This article has been updated to reflect the additional ENDA co-sponsors in the House that signed on Tuesday.

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

2 Comments
  • I’m glad to see the momentum and activity regarding ENDA, incuding working the Republican side of Congress. But it’s interesting that the article mentions nowhere the fact that when the Democrats were in charge of the Senate and the House (by an overwhelming majority) from 2008 until 2010, and with Obama at the White House, that it was such a low priority apparently that it never even came up for a vote. Where was Pelosi all that time? And now some Democratic and gay activists are saying that we’ll just have to wait until the Dems retake the House to get this done. For what, so they can sit on it again for two years? Given all the museums in town, maybe we should build one to showcase all the political and partisan hypocrisy in the nation’s capital.

  • What's her excuse for not bringing it to the floor 4 years ago?

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