In the end, there was one vote more than needed to get the Employment Non-Discrimination Act through its main hurdle in the Senate: the threat of a filibuster. By a vote of 61-30, the Senate allowed the measure to advance, setting up a final vote later this week.
The real drama, however, was the scramble to get Republicans to sign onto the measure at the last minute and the message from House Speaker John Boehner that he will never allow the bill to come to a vote.
The Senate hit the magic number of 60 on Monday morning when Republican Dean Heller of Nevada said that supporting the measure was “the right thing to do.” But at vote time, two of the supporters of the bill, Sen. Claire McCaskill (D.-MO.) and Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R.-AK), were on planes and unavailable for the vote so Sen. Susan Collins (R.-ME) and Sen. Jeff Merkley (D.-OR) began lobbying Republicans to make up for the shortfall. (All 55 Senate Democrats had signed on in support previously.)
In the end, Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio, who has a gay son and had already come out for marriage equality, agreed to support the bill, along with Sen. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania and Sen. Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire. Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah and Sen. Mark Kirk of Illinois had already signalled that they would vote to approve the bill.
A final vote will come in the Senate later this week, but just to assure his status of killjoy, Speaker John Boehner let it be known that he opposed the bill, making its chances of a vote in the House nil.
“The Speaker believes this legislation will increase frivolous litigation and cost American jobs, especially small business jobs,” Boehner spokesman Michael Steel said in a statement. In a pants-on-fire moment, a Boehner aide later added that the bill wasn’t necessary because “this is covered by existing law.”
Which will come as a surprise to people fired because they are LGBT.
Still, the advance of ENDA is an achievement that has evaded activists for years. A de-transgendered version passed the House in 2007, but the last time the Senate took up the bill was in 1996, when it failed. It may only be a partial victory, but partial victories do lead to full ones over time.