In an interview in LGBT POV, Congressman Jared Polis said that ENDA will pass the House by a "substantial margin" in a few weeks, that President Obama will help shepherd it through the Senate, and that it will be signed into law. His interview is relatively short, but we can learn a lot from it if we read carefully. As I tell my students, you have to read the subtext, not just the text.
Wow, this is a long way from the reports a mere two months ago from inside "mainline LGBT political organizations" and a source "tied to Capitol Hill" in DC Agenda that ENDA was dead: "off the agenda" as they said. Seems that the reports of ENDA's death were greatly exaggerated.
Well, we're not there yet, so don't believe anything until you see it happening. But it just goes to show how the "inside" rumor mill in DC, the "experts" who speak so definitively and dismissively, can be dead wrong. It also shows how surprisingly quickly the inside thinking in DC can change.
Of course, as we should know by now, politicians' rhetoric is not to be believed as gospel. However, I tend to think that, as a sitting Congressman, he is getting his information from an inside source.
They are indicative of a new wind blowing inside the offices of the Democratic Congressional leadership. As a freshman Congressman with savvy, I don't believe he would be going out on a limb if he hadn't heard anything from the leadership about this. His words in the interview were quite startling to my ears, and sounded like muted victory trumpets, though he was obviously trying to keep them measured and tempered. When it comes to DC, they rarely say anything directly, and we must read the tea leaves. I think those tea leaves are now telling us that the stars are aligning in favor of ENDA.
It's like in the movies, when the battle is going poorly for the hero's army, and bad things are happening, but a careful listener can hear some kind of trumpets, sounding faintly, and getting imperceptibly louder, until suddenly the hero's brother shows up with the battalions they thought were lost. Listen for the music.
We have the votes to pass ENDA in the House and we hope to bring it before the committee I serve on - the Education Labor Committee - within the month - by the end of April...And then, once it passes the committee, it shouldn't take more than a couple of weeks - a week or two - to schedule it for the floor.
This quote confirms what we heard from Barney Frank and Tammy Baldwin, that the markup would occur when Congress returns from its recess on April 12.
Substantial Majority for ENDA
Contrary to this statement from Rep. Polis, the Speaker's office staff has been giving out that they don't know whether there are enough votes to pass ENDA in the House. Clearly, that's a smokescreen, and it sounds like members of Congress are willing to speak up and call the Speaker's office on this nonsense. The idea that there aren't enough votes is flatly contradicted by my count of House members, and by Rep. Tammy Baldwin's statement that she has counted the votes and there are enough.
Rep. Polis not only said there would be a vote, but that it would pass by a "substantial" majority in the House, and that there could be a path to victory in the Senate as well. Now that's something we haven't heard from a Congressmember before on ENDA. ENDA was always portrayed as a sickly patient with a terminal diagnosis. Now comes Rep. Polis to declare ENDA the picture of health.
Path To 60 In The Senate
I don't know about the Senate - but in the House, we expect to pass out substantially. It has substantial support. The Senate requires 60 votes so it's a matter of getting some Republican moderates to support it.
In so saying, Rep. Polis is giving some strength to my argument that we only need 5 votes in the Senate and there are 9 possible Senate votes, including moderate Republicans Murkowski of Alaska, Lugar of Indiana, and Voinovich of Ohio. Not only did Rep. Polis say that ENDA will pass the House, and that there is a possible route through the Senate, but he also said that the President will expend some political capital to wrestle the Senate into shape.
Now that's also something we haven't heard before. Just some weeks ago, Rep. Frank was upset with the LGBT community for seeking to have President Obama show some real support for LGBT legislative issues. "Big Daddy, please do it for us," he mocked. At the time, I took Rep. Frank to task for casting aspersions on the community's hard work in lobbying for ENDA, and asked that some leadership be shown.
And now comes word that leadership is indeed being shown. When ENDA was first quietly tabled by the House Committee on Education and Labor in the Fall, I speculated that this would doom the bill because of the Spring legislative logjam awaiting in the Senate and because of the upcoming midterms. But Rep. Frank has since stepped up to the plate and added his demand that ENDA move forward. As one of the most powerful U.S. Representatives, that means a lot. Rep. Baldwin has also demanded that ENDA move forward. Now we hear from Rep. Polis. Who we haven't heard from is Chairman George Miller of the House Committee on Education and Labor, and Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
I may have been wrong in assuming that waiting was a bad strategy. Perhaps now that the Democrats have found their mojo, staring down the big bad Republicans who vowed to stop health care reform and make it President Obama's "Waterloo," perhaps now this newfound political strength will allow Democrats to exercise some lese majeste and recognize that job protections for LGBT Americans is the right thing to do.
He said he expects "President Obama will use the bully pulpit to bring ENDA to his desk....I think President Obama played a constructive role in helping bring hate crimes to his desk and I think he'll play a similar role in helping to get ENDA to his desk."
The idea of President Obama using the bully pulpit to make the case for job equality is an idea I like, and have scarcely dared hope for, though I recognized its necessity in regard to getting through the Senate. But when Rep. Polis says that President Obama will "bring it to his desk," that means ENDA will be passed by the Senate and sent to President Obama's desk to be signed into law. I can scarcely believe my ears. Of course, Rep. Polis cannot make promises for President Obama or the Senate, but he is stating his belief, clearly and unequivocally, that both President Obama and the Senate will step up to the place, and ENDA will become law. After months of delay and negativity, this is music to my ears.
Yes, we need to continue to lobby and ask our Congressmembers for ENDA. Yes, we need to get our community organizations in line to make their support for ENDA clear. But we also need President Obama's wholehearted support to get this through the Senate, and Rep. Polis says he believes it will happen, as it did once before not so long ago with the hate crimes bill.
Rep. Polis also has some interesting talking points about how ENDA might be messaged.
In terms of tying it into a jobs message - it's certainly about security about jobs, about a society that's free from discrimination. Of course, many states already have inclusive ENDA. California has an inclusive ENDA, I believe and so does Colorado, by the way - my state. So it won't make a difference, per se, in those states. But in areas of the country where gays and lesbians face the most discrimination, it will make a big difference.
This statement does several important things. First, it indicates that ENDA will be messaged as part of the Administration's vow to change the dismal jobs situation in the country. It's obvious to everyone at this point that unemployment must come down, or at least that strong action has been taken on that score, or else the midterms are going to be a disaster. If ENDA is tied to a "must-do" legislative agenda like jobs/unemployment, a powerful message will be sent about the importance of ENDA.
Second, by noting that many states already have an inclusive ENDA, this statement points up that ENDA is nothing new and will not be harmful in any way to employers or religious people or to the economy. There won't be a flood of lawsuits, small businesses will not be negatively affected, and there won't be a rash of cases where atheist homosexuals demand to be hired by the local Christian bookstore.
This statement also signals that these states have had experience with "inclusive" ENDA, referring to gender identity protections, and that there hasn't been any problem stemming from that. There haven't been stories of sexual predators gaining access to the womens' rooms of those states and then claiming immunity for rape because of their gender identity, or some such nonsense, as has been claimed by opponents of ENDA.
Third, from his statement that ENDA will make a big difference in areas of the country "where gays and lesbians face the most discrimination," one can infer that the messaging will be that the most outspoken opponents of ENDA are not making any reasoned arguments, but are simply fear-mongering bigots.
There's a lot we can learn from this short interview. I also think that, since DADT repeal is proving a lot harder than expected, and even the Justice Department is still defending the policy vigorously, the Administration is going to want to have something legislatively substantive to show for its efforts, and that something could be ENDA.