BY Kerry Eleveld
April 08 2010 5:55 PM ET
Herwitt said a freestanding ENDA could very well attract a poison-pill amendment, such as legalizing same-sex marriage or liberalizing gun laws, that would force members who might otherwise support ENDA to vote against the bill.
The Senate bill, S. 1584, has 45 cosponsors, and its chief sponsor is Sen. Jeff Merkley of Oregon, but Sen. Tom Harkin of Iowa is also playing a central role in shepherding the measure since he chairs the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee (HELP).
In 1990, Harkin sponsored and helped pass the Americans With Disabilities Act, which prohibited discrimination against people with disabilities.
“He’s a passionate advocate for the underdog,” said Richard Socarides, a former Harkin political director who also served as LGBT adviser to President Bill Clinton. “Passing ENDA, especially when coupled with championing the ADA, would be a very important exclamation point to his career.”
Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, said she was increasingly optimistic about prospects for passage in the Senate, though she certainly wasn’t counting any chickens.
“We’ve been having great conversations and meeting with lots of Senate staffers,” she said. Keisling noted that Sen. Jim Webb of Virginia had recently signed on to the bill amid the brouhaha after Virginia’s new governor, Bob McDonnell, rolled back discrimination protections for gay state employees.
A source familiar with the Senate strategy said the bill was not likely to be brought through HELP for a vote but would more likely be attached to another piece of legislation.