Drafting ENDA’s Battle Plan in the House
Nearly 200 members of the House of Representatives support the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, but the man who controls that chamber appears poised to block even debate of that bill on the House floor.
A spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) confirmed last week that Boehner opposes ENDA, which would prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, because he believes it will lead to frivolous lawsuits and hurt small businesses.
The news was not entirely unexpected - Boehner voted against ENDA the last time a similar bill was considered and approved by the Democratically controlled House in 2007 - but it proved a blow for advocates. Without Boehner’s support, it becomes increasingly less likely that House leadership will even allow ENDA to be brought to the floor for a vote.
Boehner’s opposition is indicative of the uphill battle advocates have always known they would face on ENDA in the House with its current composition.
ENDA has seen substantial movement in recent months for a piece of legislation that has languished in Congress for decades. A Senate committee approved ENDA with a bipartisan vote in about 15 minutes this past June. On Nov. 4, ENDA cleared a major Senate hurdle when a procedural vote on ENDA cleared the full Senate 61-30, with the support of seven Republican senators. Although not a final vote on the bill, which is expected to come later today, the support of Republican Sens. Rob Portman, Kelly Ayotte, Pat Toomey, Dean Heller and Orrin Hatch, along with the bill’s two Republican co-sponsors - Sens. Mark Kirk (Ill.) and Susan Collins (Maine) - sent a significant message to Republicans in the Senate, but also the House.
"The fact that some previously unannounced senators supported cloture - namely Ayotte and Toomey - shows me that there is wider support for ENDA than was first thought. I think the same holds true in the House," said Gregory T. Angelo, executive director of Log Cabin Republicans, which has been lobbying on behalf of ENDA. "The growing number of GOP co-sponsors and supporters of ENDA in the House announced just in the last week bears that out."
ENDA gained its fifth Republican and 194th co-sponsor in the House after Rep. Chris Gibson (N.Y.), who is being challenged for re-election by out candidate Sean Eldridge, attached his name to the bill Oct. 30. Despite support that only seems to be growing, ENDA backers have voiced frustration with House leadership.
"As the Senate places our nation on the doorstep of history, the House Republican leadership is standing in the way of progress," said Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), who as speaker in 2007 passed a version of ENDA through the House. "Even with 193 co-sponsors in the House, including five Republicans, Speaker Boehner has indicated that he will block a simple up-or-down vote on ENDA."
Speaking on the Senate floor, Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) blasted Boehner’s opposition to ENDA as "fail[ing] to take into account the heartbreak and suffering - not to mention lost wages and productivity - that workplace discrimination causes each year."
"I was disappointed to read that Speaker Boehner opposes the Employment Non-Discrimination Act because he believes it will lead to frivolous lawsuits. But coming from the man whose caucus spent $3 million in taxpayer dollars defending the unconstitutional law the Defense of Marriage Act in court, that is pretty rich," Reid stated.