Before the Senate procedural vote on ENDA, Kirk delivered his first floor speech since suffering from a stroke almost two years ago. (Douglas Graham/CQ Roll Call File Photo)
Updated 7:49 p.m. | The Senate cleared the first procedural hurdle Monday on legislation prohibiting employment discrimination against gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people.
The Senate agreed on a 61-30 vote to bring up the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, championed in the Senate by Democrat Jeff Merkley of Oregon. Seven Republicans joined all present Democrats in favor. GOP senators who supported moving forward with the bill included Susan Collins of Maine, Dean Heller of Nevada, Mark S. Kirk of Illinois, Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, Rob Portman of Ohio, Orrin G. Hatch of Utah and Patrick J. Toomey of Pennsylvania.
With supporters Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., and Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, not present, the vote initially appeared as if it would fall short. The drama was heightened by a small number of Republicans concerned about religious exemptions in the bill.
Collins called Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., into the GOP cloakroom to broker a deal to get the needed votes, according to a senior Senate Democratic aide. And with supporters hovering one vote shy of the 60 needed, Portman and Toomey emerged to provide the 60th and 61st votes.
Portman secured an agreement with Democrats to receive votes on two of his amendments to the legislation, an aide confirmed. One of the amendments, which Merkley said is also backed by Ayotte, would reinforce the religious exemption language to ensure that religious organizations would not be burdened unduly by the law. Merkley said he would support the Portman-Ayotte measure. Full story