Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), whose support for the Equality Act would be essential to passing the bill to expand the prohibition on discrimination against LGBTQ people under federal law, said Monday evening she won’t co-sponsor the legislation in the U.S. Senate.
Collins, speaking to the Washington Blade in the basement of the U.S. Capitol on her way to the Senate floor, said she’d “not co-sponsor” the Equality Act when asked about her position on the bill.
The Maine Republican said changes she had sought, but didn’t immediately specify, weren’t made to the Equality Act when she was the lone Republican to co-sponsor the legislation in the previous Congress.
“There were certain provisions of the Equality Act which needed revision,” Collins said. “Unfortunately the commitments that were made to me were not [given] last year.”
Asked later to clarify what she meant by the remark — and whether it referred to advocacy groups or fellow lawmakers who made commitments — Collins’s press office issued the following statement to the Blade from Annie Clark: “Senator Collins is a longtime supporter of LGBTQ rights, and she has repeatedly stood up for the LGBTQ community, including at times when many of her colleagues on both sides of the aisle did not. … The Equality Act was a starting point for negotiations, and Senator Collins agreed to introduce it with the agreement that all of the cosponsors would work together to make further changes. Unfortunately, they were unwilling to work out those changes. Senator Collins supports ensuring fairness and equal treatment of all Americans, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity, and she is considering all possible options to do so, including introducing her own bill.”
Collins, who has the reputation of a moderate Republican and has backed LGBTQ rights, including “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal, would be needed as a supporter to claim 60 votes to end a filibuster on the bill. The Maine Republican didn’t say how she’d ultimately come down on the legislation if a vote were held.
The U.S. House is set to vote on the Equality Act, which would amend the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to ban anti-LGBTQ discrimination on Thursday, a spokesperson for House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) confirmed to the Blade.
Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.) introduced the legislation in the House last week with all 223 original co-sponsors being Democrats, unlike the previous Congress in which a handful of Republicans supported the bill. Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) has yet to introduce it in the Senate.
Meanwhile, other Republicans who may be key to finding sufficient support for the Equality Act, professed to be unaware of the legislation when asked by the Blade.
“I have not read the bill,” said Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) just as she was entering the Senate elevator.
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), who may be a 2024 presidential contender, expressed similar ignorance.
“I don’t know what’s in it,” Rubio said.
Asked if anyone has reached out to him about the legislation, Rubio said, “No one’s talked to me about it.”
Nonetheless, Democrats who were among the Equality Act’s strongest supporters said talks among colleagues were already underway.
Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), asked in the hallways of the U.S. Capitol basement whether she had reached out to colleagues said, “I have actually.” Baldwin declined to say which senators she had addressed.
Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) similarly said talks within the Senate were underway over the Equality Act.
“I’m doing a lot of outreach right now,” Booker said. “A lot of hope.”
Rep. Chris Stewart (R-Utah) is set to introduce legislation billed as a compromise on LGBTQ rights and religious freedom supported by the Church of Latter-day Saints. None of the senators the Blade spoke to described details of the legislation.
Baldwin, returning from her cloture vote on Thomas-Greenfield in the U.S. Capitol basement, referred to process when asked how confident she was the Equality Act would pass in the Senate.
“First things, first,” Baldwin said. “We’re going to obviously introduce it. I think we are hoping for a good hearing in the Judiciary Committee. And then, I think it’s a big question about how we move civil rights matters in general. And we’re gonna have to really strategize a lot about that but I don’t think we have the answers today.”
Asked if the “big question about how we move civil rights matters” was an allusion to ending the filibuster, Baldwin said, “I’m not going there.”
“I think that we’re obviously moving the American Rescue Plan using reconciliation,” Baldwin said. “Civil rights matters are not typically things that can be moved in reconciliation. So, you know, in the meantime, we’re going to try to pick up as many Republicans as we can. And in the long run, we’ll have to assess.”
CLARIFICATION: An earlier version of this story referred to Collins’s statement as a veiled criticism of the Human Rights Campaign. That was not the case and the Blade regrets the confusion.