Breaking news: Pelosi promises votes on ENDA and DADT this year
by Lisa Keen
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi reassured representatives of several LGBT organizations this week that the Employment Non-Discrimination Act and a measure to repeal the military's anti-gay "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy will get votes this year.
Pelosi, the San Francisco Democrat, made her comments in an hourlong telephone conference call with representatives of six LGBT groups on Monday, May 17.
One of those representatives, Kate Kendell, executive director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights, said Pelosi, "in no uncertain terms, without any equivocation or evasion, stated several times that ENDA was her priority and that it would move in this Congress – and there was no question."
Concern that ENDA might not get a vote this Congress has been intensifying for the past several weeks, as the number of voting days in the House dwindles during the last months of the 111th Congress. Some activists said the 218 votes to pass the bill are there but that the House leadership had not scheduled the bill for a vote. And many were alarmed that the momentum to pass a measure to repeal DADT may have been seriously hobbled by missives from Defense Secretary Robert Gates and the White House urging that the policy stay in place until the Department of Defense completes its study, at the end of the year, on how repeal could be implemented.
But Kendell and others said Pelosi committed to passing ENDA and repealing DADT this year.
"She seems absolutely committed to getting that done," said Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality. Keisling, who has been a key organizer of support for this term's ENDA, which includes a prohibition of "gender identity" discrimination, was another of the participants in Monday's conference call.
Keisling, who said the phone call took place at about 1:30 p.m. Eastern time, noted that Pelosi talked about there being a "limited amount of time" and many other things that have to happen on the House floor before the end of this session.
While Pelosi "did not commit to a specific date" for a vote on ENDA, said Keisling, she left the impression it could move in committee as early as this week.
And Kendell said Pelosi reassured the group leaders that, while a measure to repeal DADT may move first, "she stated in no uncertain terms that ENDA is moving and it will move under her watch and it will move in this Congress."
DADT could come up as early as next Thursday, when the House begins consideration of an annual bill on Defense spending.
Pelosi spokesman Drew Hammill confirmed the call took place and said that, in addition to Kendell and Keisling, the participants included several Pelosi staff members, Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign; Geoff Kors of Equality California; Toni Broaddus, executive director of the national Equality Federation; and Masen Davis, executive director of the Transgender Law Center, a San Francisco-based legal group.
HRC spokesman Fred Sainz said Solmonese was traveling Tuesday and could not return a reporter's call, but Sainz, too, confirmed that Pelosi made a commitment to vote on both ENDA and DADT repeal. He noted this was the first time the speaker had had a conference call specifically with representatives of LGBT organizations on this issue.
Broaddus said Pelosi "didn't give us any dates" but "assured us both bills are moving and that she's very committed to getting them through."
Several participants on the call said Pelosi expressed concern about the likelihood that Republicans will exercise their option, as the minority party, to ask for a vote on a motion to recommit the bill to committee.
Such motions, which Republicans have used recently to thwart Democratic legislation, can force votes on whether to send a bill back to committee with instructions to either kill or amend it. The amendments proposed on recent legislation have been designed to both delete essential language from the underlying bill and propose language that could cause embarrassment for any legislator to oppose. Such was the case recently on a bill to create more jobs. The motion to recommit sought to insert language to prohibit paying any federal employee "officially disciplined for violations regarding the viewing, downloading, or exchanging of pornography, including child pornography, on a federal computer or while performing official government duties." Democratic leaders pulled the jobs bill when they saw that a sufficient number of Democrats were voting for the motion to recommit.
"I'm sure they'll try that with ENDA," said Keisling, "but they're going to try that with every bill that comes along from now on."
So, supporters of ENDA and the DADT repeal must ensure they have 218 votes in the House, not only to pass each measure but also to defeat any such hostile motion to recommit. A spokesman for Representative Barney Frank (D-Massachusetts), who introduced ENDA, said last week that Frank was urging LGBT activists to continue and step up the lobby effort to secure those votes. Frank was not available for comment Tuesday, and Representative Tammy Baldwin's (D-Wisconsin) office did not respond to a request for comment.
But several participants on Monday's phone call said Pelosi assured them she has "no intention of losing either" ENDA or DADT repeal.
Keisling and others said Pelosi was "very clear" that one of the bills – but not both – would see action before Memorial Day.
The House is slated to take up its annual bill on defense funding on Thursday and Friday, May 27 and 28. Frank and others have said that DADT repeal, like the hate crimes measure that passed last year, would come up during consideration of the DOD authorization bill.
Activists held a rally outside the speaker's office in San Francisco and a press conference in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday to keep the pressure on for a vote. [See coverage in Thursday's Bay Area Reporter .] At the National Press Club news conference, National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Executive Director Rea Carey said LGBT activists are "at the end of our patience."
"We have done our work," said Carey. "We have provided the numbers and the stories; and we have endured as we've watched thousands of LGBT workers lose their foothold in a struggling economy – not because of downsizing, or poor performance or closed businesses but – because of prejudice. ..."
"So today, Congress must step up to its responsibility, to fully accept its charge to serve its constituents," said Carey. "To step up to its moral obligation to preserve the integrity of the very fabric of our nation by providing an accessible workplace to all Americans – regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity."
Noting that activists have been trying for 36 years to pass some form of federal protection against discrimination against gay workers, Carey demanded Congress pass the bill "without delay."