Concerted effort underway to get more Republicans behind ENDA

Gregory Angelo

Now that Congress has a little breathing room to discuss legislation beyond the budget, groups hoping to advance bills to help their cause are pushing hard to move their bills to the floor.

For the LGBT community, the bills best positioned for action are a bill to prevent bullying in schools and the long-standing Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA). Both have reported out of committee, but all eyes are on ENDA.

And, for the first time ever, there is a strong, visible effort by Republicans to get Republicans on board with ENDA.

The reason can be seen in the numbers:

In the House, Republicans dominate 231 to 200 (there are six vacancies). Any bill needs 216 votes to pass. The number of co-sponsors of ENDA in the House stands at 185 – that’s 31 short of the bare minimum needed to pass. Of those 185 co-sponsors, only four are Republicans. Of the 245 members who haven’t co-sponsored ENDA, 227 are Republicans. Even if all 18 Democrats who have not yet co-sponsored the bill did so and even if every vacancy is filled by a new co-sponsor, the support would still fall short by seven votes that could come only from Republicans.

In the Senate, while Democrats (with Independents) dominate 55 to 45, they don’t have a ready 60 votes to win a procedural vote (cloture) necessary to force a vote on the bill itself. The Senate ENDA has 54 co-sponsors and only two of those are Republicans. To get to 60 votes, the bill must find six more votes from among three Democrats and 43 Republicans.

Log Cabin Republicans have been pointing out for years that the LGBT community must focus on garnering Republican support in Congress. But that group has never had the financial resources to make a significant dent itself in the past. The group’s website lists only four senators and three House members as “allies,” and only two of the senators and three of the House members are ENDA co-sponsors.

The Washington Post reported October 21 that a pro-gay Republican group called the American Unity Fund has hired two former Republican members of Congress to lobby for ENDA even though both oppose allowing same-sex couples to marry. The AUF hired former U.S. Rep. Tom Reynolds (R-NY) and former U.S. Senator Norm Coleman (R-Minn.) to secure Republican co-sponsors for ENDA. Reynolds, who is also a former chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, voted against ENDA in 2007.

“Republicans have a diverse range of opinions on marriage equality, while at the same time, there is a clear and decisive majority who are in support of ENDA,” said Jeff Cook-McCormic, senior advisor to the AUF.

AUF is part of the Americans for Workplace Opportunities (AWO), a campaign organized by a steering committee of 11 organizations, which also includes the Human Rights Campaign, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, the ACLU, the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, and others.

And AUF has credibility with Republicans. Its president, Margaret Hoover, was an associate director of intergovernmental affairs in the administration of President George W. Bush and serves on the advisory council of GOProud. She’s also provided commentary to Fox News and the Wall Street Journal. And AUF’s chief funder is Republican supporter Paul Singer, whose son is gay.

Kevin Nix, a spokesperson for HRC, said HRC, AUF, and the other groups in AWO are taking a “campaign approach” to ENDA, using field work in a select number of states, polling, and research with a budget of $2.5 million.

Nix said the AWO coalition expects the ENDA vote in the Senate will be in “weeks, not months.”

“We’re cautiously optimistic it will make it out of the senate and that will improve our prospects in the house.” But Nix acknowledged the House is “an uphill climb.”

And there are other groups working to get Republican support on ENDA. Project Right Side, started by Ken Mehlman, who came out as gay a few years after stepping down as chairman of the Republican National Committee, is one.

Although Log Cabin Republicans is not on the AWO steering committee, Gregory Angelo, executive director of Log Cabin Republicans, said his group is working with AWO, doing call-ins, polling, lobby days, and personal meetings with member of Congress and their staffs. And he’s working closely with Christian Berle, a former Log Cabin official who is working for another pro-ENDA group, the Freedom to Work, founded by a former Hill legal counsel, Tico Almeida.

Angelo said he and Berle met October 22 with representatives of right-wing Republican Senator Ted Cruz.

“We’re not working on getting additional co-sponsors,” said Angelo, but just trying to make sure the votes are there to pass it.” Angelo said he got the meeting with Cruz’s staff because Log Cabin shares some positions with Cruz, including opposition to the Affordable Care Act.

Still, isn’t Cruz a bit of a stretch?

“My approach is to leave no stone unturned,” said Angelo. “If there is a Republican’s office that’s interested in meeting with us on ENDA, on marriage equality, on Obamacare repeal, whatever, we’re not going to turn them down.”

Angelo said he got the meeting with Cruz’ staff specifically to talk about ENDA, but he declined to disclose any details about what Cruz’s staff said.

“We’re not naïve or presumptuous,” said Angelo. “We’re willing to engage.”

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