Speier: 5 years for ENDA
by Cynthia Laird
Congresswoman Jackie Speier put a damper on hopes for swift House passage of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, telling the Bay Area Reporter over the weekend that she doesn't see the LGBT workplace protections becoming law anytime soon.
Addressing the crowd of gay and straight political and community leaders at Sunday's Alice B. Toklas LGBT Democratic Club Pride breakfast, Speier said, "Speaker [Nancy] Pelosi is doing all she can to ensure a majority for next year so we can pass ENDA."
Asked later in a brief interview if that meant the House would not vote on ENDA this year, Speier told the B.A.R. , "The rest of the year is in question."
"There's no question 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' will be history this year," she said. "ENDA, we will have that law for sure within the next five years."
Speier, a Democrat whose district includes parts of San Mateo and San Francisco counties, said she was acknowledging reality.
"I'm being realistic," she said.
With Congress leaving Washington, D.C. next week for its Fourth of July recess, and the summer recess in August, there's not much time left before members head out on the campaign trail in the fall ahead of the November midterm elections.
Speier also said that right now there are 290 bills in the Senate awaiting action that the House has already passed. Pelosi spokesman Drew Hammill said Monday that the number was now over 300 bills.
"A lot depends on the Senate," Speier said.
Local LGBT leaders reacted strongly to Speier's comments, calling them a departure from what Pelosi had promised during a phone call she had with them in May. During that May 17 call, Pelosi "was very clear that ENDA would pass the House with enough time to pass the Senate this year," Equality California Executive Director Geoff Kors told the B.A.R. Tuesday. Kors was on that call with Pelosi, as was Masen Davis, executive director of the Transgender Law Center. Both were also at the Alice breakfast.
Davis told the B.A.R. that he grew concerned when he heard Speier's remarks from the podium. LGBT groups have been pushing Pelosi hard in recent weeks to make sure she brings ENDA up for a floor vote. During Sunday's Pride Parade, Davis said that about 1,200 signs were distributed to other contingents and those watching the parade. The blue and white placards read, "Pelosi Promised. ENDA Now." Many were visible along the parade route.
"Everything we've been told led us to believe ENDA would hit the floor this year," Davis said Tuesday.
Asked for his reaction to Speier's comment, Davis was blunt.
"That means we'll have five years of people being fired," he said. "Putting a five-year time limit on the bill feels out of touch."
Kors said five years "is not acceptable."
"This may be the best Congress we have in a decade," he added.
Davis was adamant that a House vote on ENDA must happen this year.
"We believe it's time for movement in the House," he said. "No vote is a failed vote."
Despite Pelosi's statements to local leaders in last month's conference call, in her video message played at Sunday's Pride festival, no mention was made about a vote on ENDA.
"And as for ENDA, we will not stop working until we pass an inclusive Employment Non-Discrimination Act. This has been a priority of mine for nearly two decades, and your continued advocacy is essential to our success," Pelosi said in the taped message.
Hammill told the B.A.R. this week that Pelosi remains committed to passing ENDA this year.
"Passing ENDA this year is a top priority for the speaker," Hammill said.
Kors and Davis both mentioned the current economic downturn and high unemployment rate among LGBTs, particularly in the transgender community.
"In a difficult economic climate, it is abhorrent not to pass protections for some of the most vulnerable members of our community, especially when public support for ENDA is higher than for other priorities Congress has pushed through," Kors said.
Kors also said he was concerned about the midterm elections.
"I'm worried LGBT people won't vote in the midterms" if Pelosi's promise is not kept, he said. "That would be disastrous for LGBT rights but it's understandable. People felt they did work, gave money, and lobbied members only to see once again being pushed to the back of the line."