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ENDA moves to front-burner, picks up 50th Senate cosponsor

The Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), which would prohibit employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, has been percolating in

The Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), which would prohibit employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, has been percolating in Congress for nearly two decades. This year, however, proponents think they have a credible shot at success.

That may be true, but they should probably count Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) out.

Rubio, who said this week he'd oppose his own immigration bill if it protected gay rights, was asked by ThinkProgress yesterday about whether he'd consider backing ENDA. The Florida Republican didn't explicitly denounce the bill, but he left no real doubts about position: "I'm not for any special protections based on orientation."

Asked further about protections based on race or gender, Rubio said that's "established law" and then walked away. Substantively, the senator is correct -- there is "established law" that prevents employers from discriminating on the basis of race and gender, but Congress can change the law to expand those protections.

Indeed, that's the point of ENDA -- to make a new established law to prevent gay people from losing their job just because they're gay. Most Americans assume that it's illegal to fire someone simply for being gay, but those assumptions are incorrect, and it's why ENDA is needed.

Rubio, eager to make the right happy, especially after angering conservatives by endorsing immigration reform, sees equal protection as a matter of "special" protection. Fortunately, there's a growing number of folks on the other side who see this issue differently.

Earlier this week, for example, Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, a centrist Democrat from North Dakota, became an ENDA co-sponsor, a week after Sen. Angus King (I-Maine) added his name to the same list. Last night, the bill picked up an even more notable champion, when Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) became the bill's 50th co-sponsor.

To overcome a Republican filibuster, ENDA will almost certainly need 60 votes, not 50, but the list is steadily growing. In the House, the legislation had 175 co-sponsors as of yesterday, which is also nearing the 218 threshold.

What's more, President Obama has not only endorsed ENDA, he continues to talk about his support for the measure -- at an LGBT Pride Month Reception at the White House last night, the president sounded an optimistic note: "I think we can make [ENDA] happen because after all we've seen over the past four-and-a-half years, you can't tell me that can't happen."

Reid has promised a floor vote on the bill in this Congress. So far, it has three Republican co-sponsors: Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) and Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Mark Kirk (R-Ill.).

If the party's "rebranding" effort still has any life at all, and if the College Republicans' recent report made any impression on party officials whatsoever, they'll give this common-sense legislation a good, long look.