When Senate Democratic leaders promised to move on the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) soon after the July 4th break, they weren't kidding -- a key committee vote is tomorrow and proponents are scrambling to assemble a bipartisan group of supporters.
Tico Almeida, founder of Freedom to Work, an organization dedicated to banning workplace harassment and discrimination against LGBT individuals, identified several possible Republican supporters on Monday. Almeida named Sens. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) as potential backers, along with Sens. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) and Orrin Hatch (R-Utah).All are members of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, which will mark up ENDA on Wednesday morning.
OK, sure, there are a handful of Republicans who are seen as possible allies, but how realistic is it to think someone like Orrin Hatch will vote for ENDA?
Apparently, quite realistic, indeed.
"My tendency is to vote for the bill," Hatch told The Huffington Post on Tuesday. He said he wanted to make sure that exemptions for religious organizations in the bill remain strong."I have concerns about it but I also think that the language in there is really good language," he added.
Going into the 2012 cycle, Hatch was terrified of a primary challenge, and he moved further to the right than at any other point in his lengthy Senate career. It worked -- Hatch easily dispatched would-be challengers and sailed to re-election. And as a result, he has a little more flexibility on ENDA than he would have if the bill were coming up in, say, 2011.
And what about the other GOP senators on the target list?
Alexander told HuffPost that he does not plan on supporting the bill. "I don't expect to vote for it, but I expect it to pass out of committee," Alexander said.Murkowski refused to give a definitive response, saying, "I want to take a look at the amendments in committee."
I'm not sure what more Murkowski needs to know -- she's on board with marriage equality, so how can she oppose ENDA?
Indeed, the arguments against ENDA are hard to identify at this point. A lot of Americans don't know this, but under existing law, gay people can be fired from their jobs simply because of their sexual orientation. Discrimination on the basis of race, gender, or religion is illegal, but an employer could walk up to a gay employee this afternoon, declare, "I don't like gay people so you're fired," and there's literally nothing in federal law to prevent this happening.
Which senators want to take a bold stand in support of 21st-century discrimination?
The usual line, which I suspect folks like Lamar Alexander will repeat, is that this is an issue that should be left for the states -- they don't endorse employment discrimination, the argument goes, but it's not an issue the federal government should address.
And that's the point at which I call bullpucky. If you're a policymaker comfortable with federal anti-discrimination laws to protect women and minority groups, then you have no reason to oppose ENDA. Either you're willing to tolerate employment discrimination or you're not.
At last count, the bill had 53 co-sponsors -- two of whom are Republicans -- and if Hatch is on board with the bill, the new total would be 54. Assuming a GOP filibuster would block an up-or-down vote, ENDA would still need six more votes to overcome Republican obstructionism.