March 30, 2011 at 12:30 pm EDT | by Chris Johnson
Frank seeks more co-sponsors before ENDA introduction

Rep. Barney Frank (Blade photo by Michael Key)

Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) announced on Wednesday that he’s prepared to unveil the Employment Non-Discrimination Act for the 112th Congress but is still in the process of obtaining additional co-sponsors before formally introducing the bill.

During a news conference on Capitol Hill, Frank said the upcoming introduction of ENDA would help educate lawmakers and the public about the bill as he continued to express skepticism that it would advance with Republicans in control of the House.

“This is a chance to continue — not begin, but continue — a lobbying effort that I am convinced will be successful, frankly, next time the Democrats take back the House of Representatives,” Frank said.

As it was introduced in the 111th Congress, ENDA would bar job discrimination against LGBT people in most situations in the public and private workforce. According to Frank’s office, job discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation is legal in 29 states and legal in 38 states on the basis of gender identity.

Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.), a planned original co-sponsor of ENDA, called for continued lobbying and education on ENDA for at least two years under GOP control to ensure its passage in later years.

“I think it’s very important we introduce this legislation, that we begin the process anew, that we don’t have a big gap of activity on behalf on ending this discrimination,” Miller said.

Miller, the ranking Democrat on the House Education & Workforce Committee, said the process should begin again so that “we no longer continue to live in a country where depending on where you live, your employers can legally fire, refuse to hire, demote or pass over you for promotion based upon your sexual orientation or gender [identity].”

A number of LGBT groups — ranging from the Human Rights Campaign, the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force and the National Center for Lesbian Rights —issued statements praising Frank for introducing ENDA on Wednesday even though he had yet to formally introduce the legislation.

Harry Gural, a Frank spokesperson, confirmed that ENDA had yet to be introduced on Wednesday and said his boss wants more support before going forward.

“It was announced but not formally introduced — the bill has not been ‘dropped,'” Gural said. “We have the bill text exactly as it will be [introduced] — which is exactly the same text as last year. But before it is formally introduced, we are still collecting cosponsors.”

Fred Sainz, vice president of communications for the Human Rights Campaign, said HRC was told ENDA would be introduced on Wednesday, but is behind Frank’s decision to hold off on introduction until additional support is found.

“If the congressman believes that the legislation would be best served by collecting more co-sponsors, then we would completely support that,” Sainz said. “Their plan may have been to introduce it today, but the congressman may have made a very good decision to wait until there are co-sponsors that have signed on, and I think that if that’s his judgement, then we would concur with his judgment.”

Both Frank and Miller during the news conference noted that the transgender protections in ENDA contribute to the difficulty in passing the legislation. Miller said “great strides” were made on ENDA in the 111th Congress, but added that more education is needed on the gender identity language.

“We went round and round on the issue of transgender and discussing it with members of Congress,” Miller said. “I just think it’s very important that the transgender community just insist — as the school lunch community does, or the Head Start community, or the community development block grant community, or the [National Rifle Association] or whatever it is — insist upon sitting down with members of Congress and getting them to understand and recognize what is happening.”

With Republicans in control of the House, a number of LGBT advocates have been calling on President Obama to issue an executive order barring the federal government from contracting with companies that don’t have policies barring discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Earlier this week, gay Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.) endorsed such a directive from the president (see related story).

Asked by the Washington Blade whether he would also support such an order, Frank said he would support the directive in principle, but would need to examine the move further.

“I have to look at the legality of that,” Frank said. “I would be in favor of it, but there are limits to what you can do by executive order and we don’t want to overreach, but I support it in principle and I’ll look at it.”

Frank also dismissed the idea that a discharge petition could move ENDA forward if House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) refuses to hold a vote on the legislation in the 112th Congress. A discharge petition requires the signature of a majority of House members — 218 names — to advance legislation.

“I don’t think there are 30 Republicans that would sign a discharge petition for a bill that includes transgender,” Frank said. “If there were, frankly, we could have passed this bill in the [111th] Congress. … There are not 218 members at this point ready to support it. We have an overwhelmingly number of Democrats, but not all, and a number of Republicans.”

Frank said a number of House members in principle never sign a discharge petition and predicted ENDA would lose about 15 or 20 supporters if an attempt were made to pass the legislation through that route.

“I think it’s a mistake to hold that out as a possibility because I don’t want people wasting their effort on urging people who are already ready to vote for this to do something else, which isn’t going to advance it one iota,” Frank added.

A number of LGBT advocates are frustrated that ENDA didn’t even see a House committee vote — let alone a vote on the House or Senate floor — during the 111th Congress when Democrats had control of both chambers of Congress.

Frank cited a “traffic jam” in the LGBT legislative agenda with the passage of hate crimes protections legislation and “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” as a reason why ENDA didn’t move in the 111th Congress.

“In lobbying of members, it takes coordination of the legislative schedule — and, frankly, that’s the kind of lack of understanding of the legislative process that’s an obstacle to our getting things done,” Frank said. “The fact is that we have to work at these things, and they are not easy to do.”

Frank added that repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” wasn’t a “slam dunk” in the 111th Congress and said “you can go to members only so many times on so many issues.”

“I work hard to get my colleagues to be supportive,” Frank said. “If the notion is that whatever people do, they only criticism for what they don’t do takes hold, then we won’t get much done.”

Frank said there was “no chance” for both repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and passage of ENDA last year in both chambers of Congress, although he admitted ENDA could have seen progress in the House.

“We might have been able to get them both done in the House, but there was no way we could get them both done in the Senate — to get 60 votes for the repeal of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ and a transgender-inclusive ENDA, and that’s what dictated what we finally did,” Frank said.

Chris Johnson is Chief Political & White House Reporter for the Washington Blade. Johnson is a member of the White House Correspondents' Association. Follow Chris

  • REWIND please. Four months ago, there was a huge Democratic majority in Congress. Frank’s own aid says they had enough votes for passage. Yet the dems didn’t even bring ENDA up for a vote. So why should we believe him when he says that we’ll pass ENDA the next time there is a democratic majority? You can believe that load of bs if you want to but it seems to me he doesn’t deserve our trust any longer.

    • Frank maybe BS but it was Nancy Pelosi that held ENDA hostage. We let her put off voting on it for the sake of health care since they couldn’t walk and chew gum at the same time.

  • With unemployment @ 20% + Queer Frank is only worried about other queers.I’d say that’s VERY QUEER!!!

  • JB, I believe Barney addressed your point. I find it highly doubtful that you trusted him before today. Bashing Barney has been a popular sport in some quarters for a long time, and is both undeserved and counterproductive.

    • Mr. Rosendall,

      Do you ever get tired of being a shill for these losers who are our so-called friends? Barney Frank and his BFF Pancy Pelosi couldn’t get ENDA passed even with big Democratic majoties in both chambers of Congress and a supportive President. This is a bill that is supported by an overwhelming majority of the American people, yet our “friends” couldn’t get it done. It’s time for Big Ol’ Barney to pack up and head home to Massachusetts.

    • Rick, as much as I respect your commitment and trust and views towards Dems, look at your blind attack at JB for an honest, yes honest response to another politician (Frank) promising us the world (for more votes and money, of course). I so agree that it is IMPERATIVE that every LGBT person assess the time of full Democratic governing and ask “so what did they stand for?” Because we all know that corporations large and small line the pockets of Democrats just as much as the Republicans. Money buys their ears and money buys their commitment. Original thinking needs to start with completely breaking from “the old way of doing things”.

  • So Rick, go ahead and attack me rather than address the issue the Frank’s lack of credibility on the issue and his attempt to equate democratic electoral politics with movement on equality issues. Frank cites a “traffic jam” as his excuse for not passing ENDA when he had an overwhelming Democratic majority. For the record, the 111th House was in session 159 days in 2009 and about 114 days in 2010. ( If most Americans showed up for work every 3 days a week, we’d be fired. Frank is using ENDA as a means of electing more Democrats, regardless of their stand on LGBT issues. Plain and simple.

  • Remember way back when, like a few months ago, when democrats DID have full control of government? Well, they were afraid to do anything unless there was “bipartisan involvement”… politicians like Frank, and their gay emissaries like HRC, simply float “new products” out there so that “next time” (ha!) you and I vote, we will vote for a democrat or two.

    See what is the lie, and who are the liars? Who tried to get ENDA thru before, by stripping the T out of LGBT and out of the enda bill?? Barney Frank, that’s who. Democrats deserve ZERO LGBT money from now on, ZERO. Vote for yourself on every ballot, make your votes a protest vote from now on. Get their attention next election, make them record 100,000 write-in votes for 100,000 different names. Play the game your way, to make them stop playing us their way. It can be done.

  • So what if you have a Democratic Majority in Congress again, you may not have a supportive President in the White House when you do. ENDA failed to get a vote because the community insisted on making ending DADT a greater priority than passage of ENDA! I have not heard President Obama even address ENDA as an issue but he has mentioned ending DADT more than once during a nationally televised Presidential address and in the Press! If the gay leadership won’t make passage of ENDA a number one priority then why should anyone else? Why haven’t they demanded Obama make passage of ENDA a major priority and push for it?

    You faggots want to cram everything under the sun through at once rather than focus on one major legislation at a time like we did with Hate Crimes! As a result, ending DADT became the priority even though most of us don’t work for the US military and more of us would have benefited by passage of ENDA than ending DADT! So you can blame everyone but you fail to put the blame where it belongs with misguided leadership and priorities!

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