The last time the Senate took up the Employment Non-Discrimination Act was 1996, when the institution generally still operated by majority rule. At the time, ENDA came up one vote short – it got 49 votes when it needed 50.
With obstructionism now the norm, ENDA proponents had an even higher bar to clear yesterday, with a Republicans filibuster demanding 60 votes to begin the debate on the legislation. This time, however, the bill fared far better – the Senate voted 61 to 30 to advance the legislation. Unexpectedly, seven Republicans voted with the majority, and the number might have been higher had nine members not missed the vote.
In an interesting twist, 30 Republicans backed the filibuster, but not one was willing to deliver remarks against ENDA. The same thing happened in committee, when most of the GOP senators opposed the bill, but none was willing to say a word.
It’s a reminder that we’ve reached a fascinating point in the larger debate – Republicans don’t want expand protections against discrimination, but they’re reluctant to defend their position out loud.
With Senate passage all but assured – expect a final vote tomorrow or Thursday – attention turns to the Republican-led House, where as Rachel noted on the show last night, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) is under the mistaken impression that existing law already prohibits anti-gay discrimination in the workplace. How the Speaker of the House could be this confused is a bit of a mystery.
While the odds of ENDA’s success in the lower chamber are clearly poor, it’s worth noting that Boehner will be under pressure from some of his own allies.
“Speaker Boehner, don’t stand on the wrong side of history” may be the subject line of a House Democratic press release on gay rights legislation, but it’s also a message coming from some members of Speaker John A. Boehner’s own party.
“We ought to take this vote with nothing to fear,” Rep. Charlie Dent, R-Pa., told CQ Roll Call on Monday afternoon. “The Republican Party has to understand where the country is moving on this issue, particularly younger voters who feel that we have to have a more libertarian view on this issue.”
“It isn’t right to be fired just because you are gay,” added Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., in an e-mailed statement. “I am hopeful that my colleagues in the House will … do their part to ensure equality for all.”
Indeed, as Greg Sargent reminded us yesterday, among the House Republicans who’ve backed ENDA in the past are House Budget Committee Chair Paul Ryan and NRCC Chair Greg Walden. It’s not as if this is a fringe issue with limited support outside progressive circles.
By all appearances, if ENDA were brought to the House floor for an up-or-down vote, and House members were simply allowed to exercise their will, the bill would pass and become law. As such, Boehner has vowed to prevent a vote from happening, despite the proposal’s broad, bipartisan support among voters, most of whom assume anti-gay discrimination in the workplace is already prohibited.
And for the record, President Obama is a strong ENDA proponent, and would gladly sign it into law. It means the only thing standing between now and a civil-rights breakthrough is Speaker Boehner’s willingness to hold a vote on a popular bill.