This morning, after Senator Dean Heller announced he’d be the 60th vote for the Employment Non Discrimination Act, enabling it to break a GOP filibuster, House Speaker John Boehner promptly declared he opposes the legislation, putting its passage in doubt. Senior House GOP aides say the bill is unlikely to get a House vote.
However, on this topic, there are a handful of House Republicans who happen to agree with the RNC autopsy into what went wrong in 2012, which prescribed that the GOP should project a more tolerant aura on gay rights. One such House Republican is Rep. Charlie Dent, who comes from a moderate Pennsylvania district — and is one of around five House Republicans to come out for ENDA so far.
“I believe the Speaker should allow a vote on this bill,” Dent told me in an interview today. “I believe that the American public wants to make sure people are not discriminated against, based on race, religion, or sexual orientation.”
Dent, who also broke with the House GOP shutdown strategy, said he thought around three dozen Republicans in the House would support ENDA. He referred back to the previous House vote on a version of ENDA, in 2007, which passed with 35 Republicans in support (it died in the Senate).
“I suspect there would be a similar number now,” Dent said, though he conceded he hadn’t done a head count.
Boehner’s office is justifying his opposition by claiming ENDA “will increase frivolous litigation and cost American jobs.” However, as Sam Stein points out:
Top business leaders have begun pushing for the bill’s passage. And in July 2013, the Government Accountability Office issued a report concluding that in states with LGBT workplace protections, “there were relatively few employment discrimination complaints based on sexual orientation and gender identity filed.”
Dent similarly rejected this concern. “Much of American industry has already moved in this direction,” he said. “They have their own anti-discrimination policies.”
Dent said he had not written off the chances of passage, pointing out that Boehner had not yet said whether he would prevent a committee vote on attaching ENDA as an amendment to another bill, such as a Defense Authorization bill. “I hope he will allow the Rules Committee to consider an amendment on the subject,” Dent said.
But as the New York Times notes this morning, this would require House GOP leaders to risk a conservative revolt. Indeed, this is another issue where conservative opposition is explicitly impeding the GOP from doing what Republicans themselves say is necessary for the party to keep pace with shifting demographics and the evolving culture. The RNC autopsy specifically said the GOP should evolve on gay rights to appear more tolerant to young voters, who view this as a gateway issue.
Dent agreed. “Younger voters would be much more accepting of the Republican Party if we were to adopt legislation of this type,” he said.