Sen. Dean Heller (R-Nev.) cemented the confidence among LGBT advocates Monday morning that the Senate would have sufficient votes to pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act by announcing his support for the bill.
Heller announced that he supports the long-sought legislation, which would prohibit many employers from discriminating against LGBT workers, in a statement on his website. The cloture vote on Monday is anticipated sometime after 5 pm.
“After listening to Nevadans’ concerns about this issue from a variety of viewpoints and after numerous conversations with my colleagues, I feel that supporting this legislation is the right thing to do,” Heller said. “Under the leadership of this Governor, as well as the legislature over the past several years, Nevada has established a solid foundation of anti-discrimination laws. This legislation raises the federal standards to match what we have come to expect in Nevada, which is that discrimination must not be tolerated under any circumstance.”
Heller is relatively new to Congress, so doesn’t have much of a history to evaluate his support for LGBT issues. However, he voted for an LGBT-inclusive version of the Violence Against Women Act reauthorization earlier this year.
Tico Almeida, president of Freedom to Work, heaped praised on the Nevada Republican for announcing his support for the legislation.
“We applaud Sen. Heller for standing on the right side of history by voting to protect LGBT Americans from workplace harassment and discrimination,” Almeida said. “Nevada’s Republican Gov. [Brian] Sandoval signed into law strong workplace protections for transgender Nevadans several years ago, showing that more and more Republicans are concluding that workplace fairness is good policy and smart politics.”
Jeff Cook-McCormac, senior adviser for the American Unity Fund, told the Washington Blade Heller’s support for ENDA is sign on things to come.
“Senator Heller’s support for non-discrimination puts him in good company – with nearly 90% of Fortune 500 companies, with a clear majority of Republican voters and with Republican Governor Sandoval who signed Nevada’s law,” Cook-McCormac said. “In the near future we expect several other Republican Senators to embrace this core conservative principle – that American employees should be judged on their merit and hard work, not on their race, religion, sexual orientation or gender identity.”
LGBT advocates are claiming 60 votes in the wake of Heller’s announcement. As of Monday morning, the legislation has 54 sponsors, including chief sponsor Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.). Newly seated Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) has signaled support for the bill as well as fellow Democrats Mark Pryor (D-Ark.) and Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.).
Assuming Sens. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) and Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) vote for cloture on ENDA as they voted for it in committee, the bill will meet the 60-vote threshold to overcome a filibuster.
However, despite media reports and LGBT advocates claims that they’re “yes” votes, these last two senators have never given explicit assurances they’ll vote for cloture.
Last week, Hatch told the Blade he wants “I want to make sure I understand it fully before I make a decision.” His office didn’t immediately respond to a request for an update Monday morning.
Matthew Felling, a Murkowski spokesperson, also wouldn’t commit his boss to voting “yes” when asked for an update by the Blade.
“We’ve worked together long enough that you know we don’t discuss/telegraph our votes prior,” Felling said.
Further, the effort to pass ENDA in the House remains significantly difficult. As reported by the Huffington Post, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) has reiterated his opposition to the bill.
“The Speaker believes this legislation will increase frivolous litigation and cost American jobs, especially small business jobs,” said Michael Steele, a Boehner spokesperson.
A Boehner aide added we have always believed this is covered by existing law and the speaker’s words don’t represent a new position.
Chad Griffin, president of Human Rights Campaign, reportedly jabbed Boehner over the response.
“The Speaker, of all people, should certainly know what it’s like to go to work every day afraid of being fired,” Griffin was quoting as saying. “Instead of letting the far right trample him again, it’s time for Speaker Boehner to stand with the majority of everyday Republican voters and support ENDA.”
Drew Hammill, a spokesperson for House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), said Boehner’s response isn’t surprising given his defense of the Defense of Marriage Act in court.
“It is deeply disappointing to see that Speaker Boehner would block any legislation that would end discrimination,” Hammill said. “But after spending $2.3 million in taxpayer dollars on a failed effort to defend discrimination against LGBT couples in federal courts, no one should be surprised. When the Senate passes this legislation, all options will be on the table in order to advance this critical legislation in the House.”