The U.S. Senate voted 61-30 to invoke cloture on the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) Monday evening, setting the stage for a final vote on the landmark LGBT-rights bill.
The two Republican co-sponsors of ENDA — Sens. Mark Kirk (Ill.) and Susan Collins (Maine) — were joined by five of their Republican colleagues in voting for cloture. Republican Sens. Rob Portman, Kelly Ayotte, Pat Toomey, Dean Heller and Orrin Hatch all voted for cloture.
According to Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), ENDA's lead Senate sponsor, Portman and Ayotte will be putting forward an amendment backed by Merkley relating to non-retaliation provisions in the bill. Toomey is also expected to put forward an amendment concerning ENDA’s religious exemption, although Merkley said he has not seen the language of Toomey’s amendment. That additional Republican support was secured after Ayotte, Portman and Toomey could be seen in full view of the public and press galleries negotiating with some of ENDA's most vocal backers in a Senate cloakroom, including Merkley and Majority Leader Harry Reid, before emerging to cast their yes votes.
The vote came after ENDA's lead champions in the Senate delivered a series of floor speeches throughout the day urging their colleagues to support the landmark LGBT-rights bill.
Kirk, the lead Republican co-sponsor of ENDA in the Senate, spoke on the floor for the first time since suffering a stroke nearly two years ago. Kirk said he rose to speak because he "believes so passionately about enacting ENDA."
"I think it's particularly appropriate for an Illinois Republican to speak on behalf of this measure in the true tradition of Everett McKinley Dirksen and Abraham Lincoln, the men who gave us the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the 13th amendment to the Constitution," Kirk said.
After his speech, Collins and Portman, the first Senate Republican to endorse same-sex marriage, came up and shook Kirk’s hand.
"I realize that for some, this is not an easy vote. I understand that for some they may believe that it’s not good politics. But I want to say that I have a deep respect for those who choose to stand on the side of progress for our country this week," Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), the upper chamber’s first out member, said on the Senate floor. "So for those that stand up this week and answer the call for courage, I can say with confidence your courage will be respected and remembered when this struggle is written."
Monday's vote provides a strong indication that ENDA will pass the upper chamber as soon as this week. The Senate last voted on ENDA in 1996, when he failed by one vote the day after the same chamber approved the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). Despite a Senate victory, an uphill battle remains in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives.
House Speaker John Boehner came out against ENDA, making it increasingly likely that House leadership will not even allow the bill to be brought to the floor for a vote.
Speaking to reporters after the Senate vote, Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) mentioned the possibility of using a discharge petition to force a House vote, and Baldwin said she is confident ENDA would pass the House if leadership allowed members to vote.
"The Speaker, of all people, should certainly know what it's like to go to work every day afraid of being fired," said Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin in a statement. "Instead of letting the far right trample him again, it's time for Speaker Boehner to stand with the majority of everyday Republican voters and support ENDA."